How The Act of God Defense Applies To Texas Personal Injury Cases.
Imagine this scenario: you come home to find your neighbor's car halfway into your living room. You'd probably assume that your neighbor lost control of his car (perhaps due to drinking too much) or maybe his 10 year-old went for an ill-fated joyride. You don't need to be an expert on Texas property laws to know that your neighbor is financially responsible for the damage done to your home. But in rare cases, he won't be. For example, what if it had been a tornado that tore through your neighborhood, picked your neighbor's car up, and hurled it into your house? In a legal context, this is known as an "Act of God."
In this article, attorney Michael Grossman will discuss the Act of God Defense and how it can impact your Texas personal injury case. In particular we'll discuss when it's appropriate for the defendant to plead the Act of God Defense and when it is not.
For a full explanation of how defenses work in general in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, be sure to click on our Common Defense Arguments Used in Texas Injury Cases page.
Questions answered on this page:
- What defines an Act of God Defense in Texas personal injury case?
- How do courts apply the Act of God Defense in my Texas personal injury case?
- What are some good examples of the Act of God Defense actually being applicable?
- How does an experienced Dallas-based attorney help me win?
What is an Act of God?
We're not going to start any theological debates here, so don't worry. The phrase Act of God refers to 1) a violence occurring in nature that 2) has nothing to do with human action and 3) could have never been reasonably foreseen. If said natural violence caused your injuries, then no one can be held financially liable. This may seem so blatantly obvious that there wouldn't need to be a formal defense on the books. After all, in the above example of your neighbor's car being in your house, you're not going to blame your neighbor for the tornado. It wasn't his fault.
Unfortunately, this is an important subject to cover, and its application is apparently not as obvious as one might think. However, if you're thinking that we must go over this subject because plaintiffs are arbitrarily trying to sue people for Acts of God, think again. The real issue is that plain old acts of negligence are being dressed up by defense lawyers in an attempt to help their reckless clients avoid paying for the harm they've caused.
How do courts apply the Act of God Defense?
This is where things get tricky. Generally, courts will allow a jury (if requested by the defendant) to consider whether the defendant's negligence--if there was any--was superseded by the violence of nature. Some examples of how the Act of God Defense is used are as follows:
- A power company places power lines near a store you frequent. Over the years, rain has caused the untreated wood poles to soften. One night as you're walking near the store, a large gust of wind knocks the a pole onto the ground, injuring you. The power company could argue that, look, the rain is natural and the wind is a violent force that they obviously couldn't control. Nonetheless, your lawyer should argue that power companies know or should know that years of rain can compromise the integrity of wood AND that gusts of wind happen all the time. Your lawyer would not be arguing that nature didn't play its part, but that the company should have foreseen the danger and acted accordingly. The Act of God Defense will likely not impact your case.
- You're on a Greyhound bus that is not well maintained (e.g., its brakes are worn), and its driver is speeding. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake erupts and causes the bus to turn over, hurting you. Greyhound should have maintained better brakes and not hired a speedy driver---you've got them dead to rights that they've behaved negligently. However, an earthquake that size was plainly the cause of the accident AND wasn't remotely foreseeable. Greyhound will likely escape any liability.
While the Act of God Defense is usually easily rebutted, an experienced attorney still takes it seriously because if the defense works, it means that the injured person cannot recover compensation for their injuries. This defense is often argued when it has very little chance at success because it's a "freebie" defense. If it works it defeats the case. With a reward that high, defense attorneys will employ the Act of God Defense even on the thinnest pretense.
Grossman Law Offices will make sure that the Act of God Defense doesn't derail your case.
It's important to remember that, in any case, the defendant's lawyers will try every trick in the book to minimize your recovery. That's why you want to only hire an attorney who's succeeded in beating back every defense the other guys will throw at you.
Over the past 25 years Grossman Law Offices has represented literally thousands of clients, helping them to get the compensation that they deserve. For a completely free and confidential consultation with one of our attorneys, just pick up the phone. We'll walk you through the potential pitfalls you may have heard about in filing a claim. We're here to help. Give us a call at: (855) 326-0000.
Related Articles for Further Reading:
- Personal Injury Defenses: Consent
- Personal Injury Defenses: Assumption of the Risk
- Personal Injury Defenses: The Competitive Sports Doctrine