This article discusses about the concepts of act of god/vis major in law of tort along with the cases related to act of god and what defenses have been taken. Tort came in India in 1065 by England, tort refers to a civil wrong which is basically a breach of duty. It provides defenses to the citizens from tortious liability who have been unfairly been implicated with wrong claims imposed on them. There are many defenses in tort for example inevitable accident, plaintiff’s wrongdoing, volenti non fit injuria any many more. There are many philosophers and theorist who define tort in their own word. They also provided defenses and remedies for the defendant who have been wrongly liable by plaintiff in such cases.
Meaning and Definition:
In simple words, act of god means it is a natural and sudden and direct and irresistible act which is beyond the human control. Act of god or (vis major act) is extraordinary occurrence of circumstances which could not have been foreseen or guarded against. Such circumstance is due to natural cause or without human intervention. In cases of act of god, harm could not be avoidable by any foresight or prudence and also cannot be avoidable by any amount of care by any individuals. e.g. Earthquake, heavy rainfall, tsunami, volcano, flood , lightening ,etc. In torts, defenses used in cases of act of god, when an event is occurring over which defendant and plaintiff had no control over the event occurred and the damages is caused by that event or by natural forces. In such cases defendant will be not liable in tort for such events or inadvertent damages.
Sir Frederick Pollock defined an inevitable accident as an accident which is not avoided by any precautions, a reasonable man could have expected to take. It does not mean to be a catastrophe which could not have been avoided by any precautions means by any reasonable man at the moment which it occurred, hence an accident which arises out of the normal causes of the 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.
-There must be working of natural forces without human intervention.
-The occurrence must be extraordinary and not one which could have anticipated and reasonably guarded against.
1. Nicholas v. Marshland (1876)
In this case defendant created an artificial lake in his land. After a most unusual fall of rain caused damages, the lakes overflowed, the dams at their end gave way, and the water out of the lakes carried away the country bridges lower downstream. And the water washed out the four bridges of plaintiff .in consequences of that plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant. But in this case defendant put the defense of act of god.
In this the court held that defendant was not liable because the loss occurs to the plaintiff not by defendant but due to exceptionally heavy rainfall or due to act of god or vis major. And the defendant successes in this case.
Concept of inevitable accident-
-accident means an unexpected occurrence of something that could not have been predicted or prevented.
-in such a case, defendants will not be liable if they had no intention to cause it and if the plaintiff is injured because of it.
2. Harnam Singh v. R. P. Auto Aid
In this case the defendant was an owner of R.P. Auto aid. He knows that the condition of tiers is not good. While driving a car in excessive speed the accident took place due to the bursting of tires, the plaintiff sustain injury. In the consequences of the injury plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant but the defendant took the defense of inevitable accident.
In this case the court held that, the accident could be avoided by taking a due care because the defendant was using a worn out tiers and he could have avoided the accident by replacing the tires into new one .so the court held that the defense of inevitable accident is not available for the defendant and held liable the defendant and court ordered the defendant to compensate the Harnam Singh.
Doctrine of strict liability: In strict liability people have to pay compensation to victims even if they took all the necessary precautions. In other words, the law makes people pay compensation for damages even if they are not at fault. It does not depend upon such factors, such as reckless, intent to do the ace, knowledge of the action, etc.
3. Rylands v. Fletcher
In this case the defendant was the owner of coal mine. A mill owner had constructed a reservoir on the defendant land. One day the water broke through the filled in shaft of an abandoned coal mine and flooded connecting passageways into the plaintiff’s active mine nearby.
The trial court held that the defendant was ignored of the abandoned mine shaft and free of negligence and decided the case in favor of the defendant.
In short, an inevitable accident which is physically unavoidable and can’t be prevented by human skill or foresight. Whereas an act of god which is occurred by an extraordinary natural forces and its effects include total destruction or loss at a very high scale as there are unpredictable and cannot be controlled but with the science, it might be possible one day to predict an act which may be caused due to be actions of natural forces and perhaps, and even controlled such natural forces up to a certain extent.