Author-Himani Choudhary, University Five Year Law College, University of Rajasthan


An act of god is a general defense under the Law of Torts when the act is such a nature over which the defendant has no control and the damage is caused due to the working of natural forces. An act of god is defined as a circumstance where no human foresight can foresee the event and humans have no control over the circumstances. The act must be something that is extraordinary and something that cannot be foreseen and usually does not occur. The act must be of such a nature that even after applying all forces and due care it cannot be prevented. In such a case the defendant can take the defense of an act of god and can save himself from the liability and harm caused to the plaintiff. It is an absolute defense under the law of torts.


An act of god or Vis Major is a defense under the law of torts when the act is caused by the working of natural forces that is extraordinary, uncommon, direct, sudden, and cannot be foreseen by a reasonable man and if foreseen cannot be prevented even after taking all precautions and due care by the defendant. This includes earthquakes, floods, wildfires, etc.  In this case, the defendant can take the defense of an act of god and can prevent himself from the liability arising after proving that he had done everything that a reasonable and a prudent person could do in such a scenario. It is an absolute defense under the law of torts.


According to Salmond, an act of god include those acts which a man cannot avoid by taking reasonable care. Such accidents are the result of natural forces and are incoherent with the agency of man.

According to Lord Mansfield, an act of god is define as it is something in opposition to the act of man.

Vis is a Latin word meaning any kind of force, violence or disturbance to person or property. Vis major is an act of God. The doctrine states that a person is absolved of liability if it was directly caused by vis major.


An act of god is one of the general defense of the law of torts. General defenses are framed from time to time as per the need arises in court of law to prevent the defendant from the tortious liability arises from his act. To get the benefit of these defense defendant had to prove all the essentials required to get the defense. These defences were framed from time to time to keep up with the very basis of imposition of tortious liability on an individual i.e, creating a sense of deterrence while keeping up with the basic values of justice. An act of god is one which has been there since the existence of our planet, earth, we have been facing and witnessing natural calamities since the existence of mankind and this include Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wildfire etc. In such occurrences lives are lost, properties are destroyed and significantly damaged when the forces of the nature strike harshly and suddenly.



An act of God is an uncommon, extraordinary and unforeseen manifestation of the forces of nature, or a misfortune or accident arising from inevitable necessity. An act of god cannot prevent by reasonable human foresight and care.
The effect of ordinary causes may be foreseen and avoided by the exercise of human care. For example, the fact that rain will leak through a defective roof is foreseeable by an ordinary man. In case of foreseeable causes, failure to take the necessary precautions constitutes negligence, and the party injured in the accident may be entitled to damages. An act of God, therefore, is so extraordinary and devoid of human agency that reasonable care would not avoid the consequences. Therefore in such cases the injured party has no right to damages.


The basic and prime element of an act of god is the happening of an unforeseeable event. For this, if the harm or loss was caused by a foreseeable accident that could have been prevented, the party who suffered the injury has the right to compensation. However, the damage caused by an unforeseen and uncontrollable natural event is not compensable as it could not have been prevented or avoided by the foresight or prudence of man.
Moreover, courts are of the opinion that the act of God defense exists only if the event is so exceptional and could not have been anticipated or expected by the long history of climate variations in the locality. It is constructed by only the memory of man i.e. recorded history. The courts may demand expert testimonies to prove that an event was unforeseeable.

It means practically impossible to resist. Negligence constitutes failure to take the necessary precautions. In an incident where a human factor was present, even though the harm could not be prevented, the fact that the human factor exercised reasonable care and precautions to prevent the harm has to be proved if the defence of act of God has to prevail. If negligence is alleged and proved, then the defence of act of God will fail. If an owner was negligent in properly maintaining a tree that fell on a passerby, he cannot be exempted from liability by act of God principle.


  1. In the case of NICHOLS V. MARSHLAND [1] the defendant has a number of artificial lakes on his land. Extraordinary rain such as had never been witnessed in living memory caused the banks of the lakes to burst and the escaping water carried away four bridges belonging to the plaintiff. It was held that the plaintiff’s bridges were swept by an act of God and the defendant was not liable.
  2. In the case of BLYTH V. BIRMINGHAM WATER WORKS CO [2] the defendants had constructed water pipes which were reasonably strong enough to withstand severe frost. There was an unprecented severe frost that year causing the pipes to burst resulting in severe damage to the plaintiff’s property. It was held that though frost is a natural phenomenon, the occurrence of an unforeseen severe frost can be attributed to an act of God, thus the relieving the defendants of any liability.
  3. In the case of RAMALINGA NADAR V. NARAYANA REDDIAR [3] the plaintiff had booked goods with the defendant for transportation. The goods are looted by a mob, the prevention of which was beyond control of defendant. It was held that event beyond control of the defendant cannot be said Act of God. It was held that the destructive acts of an unruly mob cannot be considered an Act of God.


Although the act of God defense – that a defendant is insulated from liability for personal injury or property damages caused by a natural cause is rarely used, it may become more common and general in the future if predictions of disastrous weather events caused by global warming prove true. One prediction related to global warming is that catastrophic weather events such as hurricanes, tornados, and torrential rains will occur more often. All of these have the potential to cause extensive personal injury and property damage and consequently mental trauma.

Leave a Reply