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What is an Act of Nature?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An act of nature is an event which could not be predicted and occurred outside human control. This term is often used interchangeably with "act of God" in legal terminology. Acts of nature are specifically addressed in many types of contracts where such events could interfere with the fulfillment of the contract. Certain contracts may specify that an act of nature terminates obligations under the contract or constitutes special circumstances which have an impact on liability.

Acts of nature can include things like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and lightning strikes. In the insurance industry, an unpredictable severe event of this type may be specifically excluded from the coverage, or people may be able to buy coverage which names and addresses particular acts of nature. In floodplains, for example, basic homeowners insurance usually excludes flooding, but customers can buy flood insurance, a specialized insurance product.

Contracts may include what is known as a force majeure clause, a clause which dictates that parties to the contract cannot be held accountable for acts outside their control. This includes acts of nature as well as acts of man and legislative actions which interfere with the ability to complete a contract. In construction, for instance, contractors are exempted from late penalties when severe weather prevents them from completing a project on time.

If an act of nature occurs, it can release someone from a contract entirely, reduce liability under a contract, or change the terms of the contract. What happens depends on how a contract is structured. People should read contracts closely for a force majeure clause and information about how events which are beyond their control might have an impact on the contract. Such acts may suspend liability for one party but not for the other, for instance, or a natural disaster could trigger a clause which might work against one party.

Some people may prefer to use the term "act of nature" instead of "act of God" because referring to nature is viewed as more neutral. If there is a concern about appearing to overstep propriety or about confusion in regards to a contract, the more neutral "act of nature" language may be used to avoid confusion or controversy. Both terms can be seen in use in standardized contracts and people who object to the one term or the other should register a complaint and ask for a rewording of the contract before it is signed.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Buster29 — On Feb 25, 2014

@Reminiscence, that's one reason why it rarely pays to get cheap homeowner insurance. Some cut-rate insurance companies will use an "act of nature" or "act of God" clause to get out of paying claims. The homeowner cannot share even 1% of the blame for the damages or else the insurance company can offer a much lower pay-out. Be sure to read the fine print on all home insurance policies, especially the limitations due to acts of God or acts of Nature.

By Reminiscence — On Feb 25, 2014

Lightning struck the air conditioning unit outside of our rented house last year and the landlady's homeowner insurance policy would only cover the damage if it were declared an "act of God". If the lightning had struck elsewhere and caused a power surge instead, she may not have been covered. The HVAC inspector had to come out and look at the actual damage inside the AC unit. It showed definite signs of a direct lightning strike, so she did get her claim check. It was a close call, however.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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