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Virginia Contract Law – “Act of God”


March 4, 2012 by Tom Roberts, Esq.


Virginia Contract Law – “Act of God”


Q: What is meant in the contract by an “act of God” ?First, persons of faith that believe that God controls everything in every aspect of our lives should not be offended. The inclusion of such a contractual term is actually a recognition of God and the dynamic relationship with God and his creation. The term “act of God” is a term of art, commonly used, and is intended to exclude all human agency.

Those of faith might consider the relationship between God’s providence and miracles or “special providence”.  While it is true that “God controls everything, in every aspect of our lives,” however such a statement may over-generalize[1] the complex relationship between God and his creation and obscure miracles or other “divine interventions” including such things as the virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea, the resurrection from the dead and all of the other miracles recorded in the Bible. The Scriptures teach that even the seemingly insignificant event of a sparrow falling to the ground is not without God’s hand .  And yet the same Scriptures record that there are occasions where God has acted in ways that are not expected and appear beyond the normal course of events.

Jesus ] performed miracles, described by the Greek words “smeion”–sign, mark, token that made known and distinguished a person from others, “dynamis”–an inherent power or ability, and “teras”—wonder.   These stood apart from the routine “aspect of our lives.”

Many have struggled to define miracles.

C.S. Lewis said “ a miracle is an interference with nature by a supernatural power”.

Norman Geisler, Dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, says a miracle is “a divine intervention into, or an interruption of, the regular course of the world that produces a purposeful but unusual event that would not (or could not) have occurred otherwise.  The natural world is the world of regular, observable, and predictable events.  Hence, a miracle by definition cannot be predicted by natural means.” A miracle then, is an unusual, irregular, specific way God acts within the bounds of this world which seem to be contrary to nature with a reference to His redemptive historical acts.  Miracles are not contradictory towards nature but a super-addition to nature not presently seen in the natural order.  In other words, if a miracle was to occur, it would not be a violation of the ordinary laws of cause and effect, but a new effect created by the introduction of a supernatural cause, namely, God ]

Similarly, the term . . . ‘act of God’ means an accident produced by physical causes which are irresistible or inevitable, such as lightning, storms, perils of the sea, earthquakes, inundations, sudden death, or illness. This expression excludes all idea of human agency.   Lewis v. Smith, 238 Ga. App. 6, 6-7 (Ga. Ct. App. 1999)

Another court referencing a congressional act stated “’act of God’” means ‘an unanticipated grave natural disaster or other natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable, and irresistible character the effects of which could not have been prevented or avoided by the exercise of due care or foresight.’” 33 U.S.C. 2701(1). Apex Oil Co. v. United States<>

“Acts of God” mean “‘events and accidents which proceed from natural causes and cannot be anticipated and provided against, such as unprecedented storms, or freshets, lightning, earthquakes, etc.'” Kaminsky v Hertz Corp, 94 Mich. App. 356, 363; 288 N.W.2d 426 (1979), quoting Golden & Boter Transfer Co v Brown & Sehler Co, 209 Mich. 503, 510; 177 NW 202 (1920) (quoting the trial court’s instructions). An act of God “requires an unusual, extraordinary, and unexpected manifestation of the forces of nature, and requires the entire exclusion of human agency from the cause of the injury or loss.” Potter v Battle Creek Gas Co, 29 Mich. App. 71, 75; 185 N.W.2d 37 (1970).  JONES v. CITY OF FARMINGTON HILLS & FARMINGTON HILLS REPRESENTATIVES, 2004 Mich. App. LEXIS 2883 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2004)

When interpreting the term “act of God” and applying it to the specific situation, the court examines whether or not there was a human agency involved.  Such a position is not against Christianity.

In United States v. Alcan Aluminum Corp., 892 F. Supp. 648 (M.D. Pa. 1995) Addressing the “act of God” defense (specifically Hurricane Gloria), the court easily dismissed Alcan’s argument that the release of toxic substance occurred in connection with the torrential downpour of rain associated with that hurricane.  The court considered in that case an “act of God” to be “‘an unanticipated grave natural disaster or other natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable, irresistible character, the effects of which could not have been prevented or avoided by the exercise of due care or foresight.'” Id. at 658 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 9601(1)).

In the context of holding people accountable for their negligent actions, the concept of an “act of God” is defined as “unforeseeable illness which causes him to suddenly lose consciousness and control of the automobile, the driver’s loss of control is not negligent, and he is not liable for any damages caused by the out-of-control automobile.Freeman v. Martin, 116 Ga. App. 237, 239 (156 S.E.2d 511) (1967); compare Langston v. Allen, 268 Ga. 733, 734-735 (493 S.E.2d 401) (1997). Rather, a sudden and unforeseeable loss of consciousness by a driver is a complete defense to a claim that the driver negligently lost control of the automobile and proximately caused an ensuing accident. Id. It also follows that, to establish an act of God defense based on illness producing a loss of consciousness, the driver must show that the loss of consciousness produced the accident without any contributing negligence on the part of the driver. Jackson v. Co-Op Cab Co., 102 Ga. App. 688, 691 (117 S.E.2d 627) (1960); Battey v. Savannah Transit Auth., 123 Ga. App. 685 (182 S.E.2d 129) (1971). Accordingly, loss of consciousness by a driver would not be a complete defense if by the exercise of ordinary care it was foreseeable to the driver that he might lose consciousness while drivingId. And even if loss of consciousness was not foreseeable, it would still not be a complete defense if the evidence showed the loss of consciousness occurred, not suddenly, but in a manner that would have allowed a reasonable driver to take some action to avoid the ensuing accident.  Lewis v. Smith, 238 Ga. App. 6, 7 (Ga. Ct. App. 1999)

See C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms:
“I suggest that the distinction between plan and by-product must vanish entirely on the level of omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect goodness… Surely a man of genius composing a poem or symphony must be less unlike God than a ruler? But the man of genius has no mere by-products in his work. Every note or word will be more than a means, more than a consequence. Nothing will be present *solely* for the sake of other things. If each note or word were conscious it would say, ‘The maker had me myself in view and chose for me, with the whole force of his genius, exactly the context I required.” And it would be right, provided it remembered that every other note or word could say no less. “How should the true Creator work by ‘general laws’? ‘To generalize is to be an idiot,” said Blake. Perhaps he went too far. But to generalize is to be a finite mind. Generalities are the lenses with which our intellects have to make do. How should God sully the infinite lucidity of this vision with such makeshifts? One might as well think He had to consult books of reference, or that, if He ever considered me individually, He would begin by saying, “Gabriel, bring me Mr. Lewis’s file…”If there is Providence at all, everything is providential and every providence is a special providence.”

And fear not for them which kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10: 28-31)

The signs performed were intended to identify Jesus as the Messiah, or the Anointed One, of whom the Scriptures prophesied, who came to do what mankind could not do, atone or pay the price for man’s failure to obey the commands of God, to be without fault.  By this Divine intervention, Jesus gives righteousness to the unrighteous, though faith and a spiritual awakening initiated by God himself.  Recommended reading, the Gospel of John.

Geisler, Norman L.  Miracles and Modern Thought. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.

See The Miracle of the Resurrection  by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon,


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