Strange, unexpected acts happen every day. Thus, even when an individual or entity may have acted negligently, they are not always held responsible if an unusual or unexpected event occurs, thereby causing harm. In order to prove a negligence claim in this type of situation, a plaintiff must prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. Additionally, in order to have a successful claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligent conduct caused the injuries at issue. Causation in a negligence claim requires a showing of both factual cause, or “but-for” cause, and proximate cause, or “legal” cause. Generally, this requires that the plaintiff show that the resulting injuries were foreseeable, rather than merely a remote result of the breach.
However, if another act occurs that intervenes after the defendant’s conduct or contributes to the harm, that act may amount to a “superseding” cause, which can cut off the defendant’s liability. In order to be a superseding cause, the subsequent act must break the chain of causation between the defendant’s negligent conduct and the resulting harm. That is, generally it must be something that could not be reasonably anticipated by the defendant.
The Effect of “Acts of God” on Causation in Negligence Claims
Generally, an individual is not expected to foresee unusual or extreme conditions, often referred to as “acts of God” in legal claims. If one of these conditions occurs, usually it will amount to a superseding cause because it was not foreseeable. This means that the defendant may not be liable for the resulting harm. However, whether an occurrence is an “act of God” or not depends heavily on the facts of the situation and what is expected under the circumstances. Also, it is often considered a fact for a jury to determine, which would require the case to go to trial in order to be decided.