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What is an ‘Act of God’?

13th May 2016

We have all heard someone say, “It wasn’t my fault, the road was wet/icy/slippery,” or that, “the sun was low and in my eyes.” Where does the law stand in cases involving poor or challenging weather conditions and to what extent can an accident really be an “act of God”?

An Act of God might best be described as “an event that directly and exclusively results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution; an inevitable accident”. Many people suffering or causing an accident in poor weather conditions will feel that it was unavoidable. In reality, very few accidents are truly unavoidable. Most accidents arise from a failure to take extra care and/or to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

In most road accidents, even involving ice and other slippery conditions, a collision arises from one or more drivers travelling too quickly, failing to keep a safe distance from other vehicles and/or failing to pay extra attention to what is happening around them. In good conditions it will take a competent driver 12 metres (or 40 ft/ 3 car lengths) to stop at 20mph. At 30mph it rises to 23 metres (75ft/6 car lengths). At 40mph it’s 36 metres (118 ft/9 car lengths) and at 70mph it’s a staggering 96 metres (315 ft/24 car lengths). In challenging conditions it follows that these distances are much increased. In slippery conditions where drivers do not slow, impact speeds are often higher as the tyres fail to stop the vehicle as quickly as in dry conditions.

Even accidents involving fallen trees, chimneys or masonry have not necessarily resulted from divine intervention. All property owners have a duty of care to others. We must all ensure that our buildings and any trees on our property are maintained to reasonable standards. If a decaying tree or a listing chimney falls in high winds and causes harm to another, the owner or occupier of the property might be liable if it can be proven that the harm arose from poor maintenance and that any fall could and should have been foreseen.

We can all protect ourselves from unwanted claims by maintaining our vehicles and properties in good condition. Make sure vehicle tyres are not too worn and are correctly inflated. Fit winter tyres if finances permit. Take time to check the condition of roofs, chimneys, fencing and trees or high bushes.

Stay safe out there!

Paul Lewis. Partner & Head of Accident Management.

General, George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog
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