Difference between Inevitable accident and Act of God

Difference between Inevitable accident and Act of God

Introduction to Act of God and Inevitable Accident

The law of torts has been evolving throughout its existence. There are certain principles or defenses that are used by the defendant in order to protect himself from the liabilities of the acts and harms by taking a plea. These defenses have been formulated from time to time to keep up with the basis of imposition of tortious liability on a person.

Sometimes the harm caused to the plaintiff are not under defendant’s control nor he is negligent while taking any precautions or while performing an act. In such cases the defense available to the defendant are Act of God and inevitable accident. Although the nature of both the defense is same i.e., to protect the defendant from the liabilities of those act for which he was neither negligent nor the harm caused to the plaintiff was under his control, but both the defenses are still different to each other.

Inevitable Accident 

An Inevitable Accident, is an accident that leads to an unexpected injuries, could not have been avoided and could not have been foreseen, in spite of reasonable care on the part of defendant. It is a good defense if defendant can show that he neither intended to injure plaintiff nor he could avoid the injury by taking reasonable care.

  • Stanley v. Powell In this case, plaintiff and defendant, who were the members of shooting party, went for pheasant shooting. The defendant fixed at pheasant, but the shot from his gun glanced off an oak tree and injured the plaintiff. It was held that injury was accidental and the defendant was not liable.
  • Brown v. Kendall In this case, plaintiff’s and the defendant’s dog were fighting. While defendant was trying to separate them, he accidentally hit the plaintiff’s eye, who was standing nearby. The injury to the plaintiff was held to be the result of pure accident for which no action lies.
  • Padmavati v. Dugganaika In this case, two strangers took the lift in a jeep. Shortly, afterward one of the bolt fixing the right front wheel of the jeep to the axle gave way and the wheel flew away from the axle. The jeep was toppled, the two strangers got serious injuries resulting in the death of one of the stranger. It was found that it was the case of sheer accident as there was no evidence to show that the defect was the patent one and that defect could not have been detected by periodical checkup. The defendant i.e., the driver of the jeep and his master were not held liable for the same.
  • Vedantacharya v. Highways Department of South Arcot – In this case, Supreme Court explained that even if the event is like heavy rain and flood but if the same can be anticipated and guarded against and the consequences can be avoided by reasonable precautions, the defense of inevitable accident cannot be pleaded.
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Act of God 

Act of god or Vis Major or Force Majeure is a good defense that can be used by the defendant in order to protect himself from the liability. It is a kind of inevitable accident with the difference that in case of act of god the resulting loss arises due to the working of natural forces like exceptionally heavy rainfall, storms, tempests, tides, volcanic eruptions etc.

The two important essential required for this defense are –

  1. Must be a working of natural force
  2. Occurrence must be extra ordinary and not the one that could be anticipated and reasonably guarded against.

Working of a Natural Force

  • Nicholas v. Marsland – In this case, the defense of Act of god was successful. The defendant created some artificial lake on his land by damming some natural streams. Once there was an extra ordinary heavy rainfall stated to be the heaviest in the human memory, as a result of which the embankment of land gave away. The rush of the water washed away stuff that belong to the plaintiff. It was held that defendant is not liable as the loss occurred due to the act of natural forces and therefore, his defense of Act of God was applicable.
  • Ramalinga Nadar v. Narayana Reddiar In this case, the plaintiff had booked goods with the defendant for transportation. The goods were looted by a mob, the prevention of which was beyond the control of the defendant. It was held that every event or act beyond the control of the defendant cannot be said as the Act of God. It was held that the destructive acts of an unruly mob cannot be considered an Act of God.
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Occurrence must be extraordinary

  • Kallulal v. Hemchand In this case, the wall of a building collapsed on a day when there was the rainfall of 2.66 inches. That resulted in the death of the respondent’s two children. The Madhya Pradesh High court held that the defendant could not take the defense of Act of God in this case, as this much of rainfall during the rainy season was not something extraordinary but is something normal. The respondent were held liable and the defense of Act of God was not applicable.

Difference between Act of god and Inevitable Accident –

  1. Inevitable accidents could occur by reason of natural forces or by intervention of human agency or by both, whereas, acts of god occur without intervention of human agency and occur by reason of natural forces only. Examples of Inevitable accident – traffic accident, train accidents, building collapses, etc. Examples of Act of god – Storms, earth-quakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.
  2. If more and more care and caution are taken, an inevitable accident can be either prevented or controlled but in case of act of god, they are neither prevented nor controlled.
  3. The Courts have discretionary power in determining the defendant’s tortious liability in case of inevitable accidents. But in case of Act of god, the Courts have no discretionary power, they ought to give their judgment in justifying the defendant’s tortious liability arising out of Act of God.

Author: Navya Agarwal,
College - GGSIPU; 2nd year

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