Acts of God (And the Negligence of Man)

Weather often figures into a personal injury case.  A driver, for example, fails to adjust to conditions and drives too fast in fog, rain or snow, causing an accident.   The driver is responsible for the injury he causes despite the bad weather.  Sometimes the weather is raised as a defense.  The accident wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was an “Act of God.”  The term “Act of God” is disfavored in Pennsylvania, thanks to Justice Michal Musmanno of the Pa. Supreme Court, who wrote in a 1962 case, “To instruct a jury to distinguish between what is commanded by the Lord and what is the result of man’s carelessness is to intermingle religious loyalties with earthly considerations in such a manner as to produce results which may satisfy neither Church nor State.”  In Pennsylvania, the defense in now called “force of nature.”  It’s like Act of God, but leaves the Almighty out of it.

The weather event must be extraordinary and not reasonably foreseeable.  Even then, force of nature is no defense if the defendant was negligent and his negligence and the unusual weather combined to cause the injury.  In that situation, the weather in considered a concurring cause and does not relieve the defendant of liability.  However,  and this is where it gets tricky, the defendant is relieved of liability if the weather would have caused the Plaintiff’s injury, even if the defendant had not been negligent.  An example:  Defendant negligently maintains a dam, which breaks in very heavy rain, causing damage downstream.  Defendant is liable, unless he can prove that the heavy rain would have overflowed the dam, causing the same damage even if the dam had not failed.

From the desk of Edward E. Houseman, Esquire,  Attorney for the Reading, Pennsylvania Personal Injury Law Firm of Liever, Hyman & Potter, P. C. which limits their practice to medical malpractice, car, truck and motorcycle accidents, wrongful death cases, premises liability, nursing home neglect, and work injuries.  Serving Berks, Schuylkill and surrounding counties for over 50 years.

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