In legal usage throughout the English-speaking world, an act of God is a natural hazard outside human control, such as an earthquake or tsunami, for which no person can be held responsible.
By contrast, other extraordinary man-made or political events are deemed force majeure.
In the law of contracts, an act of God may be interpreted as an implied defense under the rule of impossibility or impracticability. If so, the promise is discharged because of unforeseen occurrences, which were unavoidable and would result in insurmountable delay, expense, or other material breaches.
Under the English common law, contractual obligations were deemed sacrosanct, so failure to honor a contract could lead to an order for specific performance or internment in a debtor’s prison. In 1863, this harsh rule was softened by the case of Taylor v Caldwell which introduced the doctrine of frustration of contract, which provided that “where a contract becomes impossible to perform and neither party is at fault, both parties may be excused their obligations”. In this case, a music hall was burned down by the act of God before a contract of hire could be fulfilled, and the court deemed the contract frustrated.
In other contracts, such as indemnification, an act of God may be no excuse, and in fact, may be the central risk assumed by the promisor—e.g., flood insurance or crop insurance—the only variables being the timing and extent of the damage. In many cases, failure by way of ignoring obvious risks due to “natural phenomena” will not be sufficient to excuse the performance of the obligation, even if the events are relatively rare: e.g., the year 2000 problem in computers. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, 2-615, failure to deliver goods sold may be excused by an “act of God” if the absence of such an act was a “basic assumption” of the contract, and the act has made the delivery “commercially impracticable”.
Such events are possibly threatening the legal status of acts of God and may establish liabilities where none existed until now. Another issue in the law of contracts is whether the terms of contracts be complied upon in the case of an epidemic As we are facing now.
As a general principle of an act of God, an epidemic can be classified as an act of God if the epidemic was unforeseeable and renders the promise discharged if the promisor cannot avoid the effect of the epidemic by the exercise of reasonable prudence, diligence, and care, or by the use of those means which the situation renders reasonable to employ.
The phrase “act of God” is sometimes used to attribute an event to divine intervention. Often it is used in conjunction with a natural disaster or tragic event. A miracle, by contrast, is often considered a fortuitous event attributed to divine intervention. Some consider it separate from acts of nature and is related to fate or destiny.
When small business owners began to submit claims for economic losses due to the Pandemic of 2020, their claims were denied. Read your policy, was the response from their insurance companies. Your policy does not cover Acts of God.
Do Insurance Companies know something we don’t know?
How do we know that God has not heard His children and, perhaps, has responded, instead, by snail mail?
In the last few weeks, the daily headlines have screamed of death by disease. But, consider what has not happened, as well.
There have not been any reports of mass shootings in schools, because the schools are closed.
There have not been any reports of attacks on houses of worship, because the houses of worship are closed.
Grocery workers have received raises in wages without going out on strike.
The price of gasoline has declined.
Ask yourself. If both churches and casinos are closed at the same time, something must be going on.
Maybe God has heard our prayers.
Maybe God is an essential service.
I am suggesting that the CEO of our souls has a place to play in our daily details. As we make our adjustments to the New Normal, we must be open to realities of the “Acts of God.”
Little Moishe Epstein was used to being the center of attention, so understandably he was a little more than jealous of his new baby sister Rivka. Moishe’s parents sat him down and said that now that Rivkah was getting older, the house was too small and they’d have to move.
“It’s no use,” Moishe said. “She’s crawling now. She’ll probably just follow us.”