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Act of God and Inevitable Accident

May 15, 2019
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This article is written by Aditya Dubey, student of Indore Institute of Law, Indore(M.P.). The author in this article has discussed the concepts of Inevitable accident and Act of God as defences in the Law of Torts along with their modern view.

Introduction

The law of torts has been evolving throughout its existence. There are certain principles which are used to counter claims for compensation. These counterclaims or defences are used to evict those citizens from tortious liability who have been unfairly been implicated with wrong claims imposed on them. These defences have been formulated from time to time to keep up with the basis of imposition of tortious liability on a person. There are many defences to a tort, such as necessity, Inevitable accident, Plaintiff’s wrongdoing, Volenti non fit injuria, etc.

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Meaning and Definitions

An inevitable accident is one which could not be possibly prevented by the exercise of ordinary care, caution and skill and hence it does not apply to anything which either of the parties might have avoided.

An Act of God is defined as a direct, sudden, insanely violent, natural, and irresistible act of nature, one which could not by any amount of care would have been foreseen, or if it has been foreseen, could not be avoided by any amount of care by any individual.

Sir Frederick Pollock defined an inevitable accident as an accident which is not avoidable by any precautions, a reasonable man could have expected to take.

It doesn’t necessarily mean to be a catastrophe which could not have been avoided by any precautious means by any reasonable man at the moment which it occurred, hence an accident is one which arises out of the normal course of things, something so unusual as not to be looked by a person of reasonable prudence. Hence inevitable accidents can be divided into two categories, those which are the byproduct of the elementary forces of nature unconnected with the agency of mankind or those acts which have their origin in the agency of man.

Conceptual meaning of these defences

The concept of Inevitable accident

In the past cases, the defence of inevitable accident used to be very relevant in actions for trespass when the older rule was that even an innocent trespass was actionable unless the defendant could prove that the accident was caused due to it being inevitable in nature.

It was thought for a long time that the burden of proof in trespass was on the defendant and that, trespass offered some scope to the concept of inevitable accidents but today it has been held that in case of trespass as well the burden is with the claimant himself. Therefore, in the cases of Trespass as well as Negligence, the concept of inevitable accidents has no place, in such cases, inevitable accident is of no relevance because the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove the defendant’s negligence but it does not follow that it is any more relevant if the plaintiff has no burden.

Case Law: Weaver v. Ward 80 Eng Rep 284 (K.B. 1616).

In this case, the Court gave the first explicit statement that a defendant can escape tortious liability in trespass if the trespass occurred by an accident which was inevitable in nature. Due to this, the category of an “inevitable accident” was well understood, in its foundation as a distinguished defence from that of an “accident” or a “mischance”, whose availability was in the cases of a felony but not in the cases of a trespass, which was a real no-negligence defence. In this case, the defendant Weaver shot the plaintiff when his musket discharged while their team of soldiers was skirmishing with another team, the defendant pleaded that he had accidentally and by misfortune and against his will, injured and deeply wounded the plaintiff, which resulted in the same tort of trespass of which the plaintiff complained. This was actually a plea of an accident. The plaintiff objected and the court held the defendant’s plea bad. In the case of trespass, the plaintiff needed to allege only the fact that the defendant had done harm with the force and arms, rather than the harm is done negligently.

The Doctrine of Strict liability

The concept of Force major/ Vis major/ Act of God

Act of God and Negligence

Case Law: Shridhar Tiwari V. UP State Road Transport Corporation(SRTC)

In this case, A bus of UP SRTC was travelling through a village where a cyclist had suddenly out of nowhere come in front of the Bus and in order to save that cyclist the driver applied the brakes as a result of which the Bus skidded on the road as the surface of the road was wet at that time and its rear portion struck against the front portion of Bus No. USA 8037. Here the defendant was not held liable at it was a sheer case of an inevitable accident.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, an inevitable accident is an event which happens not only without the concurrence of the will of a man but in spite of all the efforts that a man may put on his part to prevent it from happening i.e. an accident which is physically unavoidable and can’t be prevented by human skill or foresight. Whereas an act of God is an accident which is caused by the operations of the extraordinary natural forces and its effects include total destruction or loss at a very high scale as these are unpredictable and cannot be controlled. But with the development of science, it might become possible one day to predict an act which may be caused due to the actions of natural forces and perhaps, and even controlling such natural forces up to a certain extent.

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