on your side

When is an accident an ‘Act of God’?

22nd October 2014

We have all heard someone say “it wasn’t my fault, the road was wet/icy/slippery/the sun was low”. Where does the law stand in poor or challenging weather conditions and to what extent can accidents be “acts 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 truth very few accidents are truly such. Most accidents arise from a failure to take extra care; to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

In most road accidents, even involving ice and other slippery conditions, the 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 too as the tyres fail to stop the vehicle as quickly as in dry conditions.

Even accidents involving fallen trees, or chimneys and masonry, are not necessarily The Lord’s fault. All property owners have a duty of care to others. We must all ensure that our buildings and any trees 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 the fall could be predicated.

We can all protect ourselves from unwanted claims by maintaining the good condition of our vehicles and our property. 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 and Head of Accident Management

George Ide
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