“Act of God” Determination Relieves Big-Box Retailer of Liability

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.

Shopping CartsHowever, 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.

Woman Loses Claim after Family Killed in Home Depot During Tornado

A woman sued the Home Depot for negligence after her husband and two children were killed after they sought cover in the store during the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Recently, a federal judge dismissed the woman’s case. The judge found that the woman failed to prove there had been any design failures that caused her family’s deaths. The 2011 tornado resulted in 200-mile-per-hour winds and was among the most destructive tornados in United States history. It resulted in 161 deaths, flattened virtually everything in its way, and damaged or destroyed about 7,500 houses.

The court found that the tornado was “an act of God,” which released the store from liability. After the decision, the store stated that its thoughts were with “all of the families that suffered losses through the terrible tornado” but that the ruling was correct. It said that it complied with local codes and even exceeded them with regard to the construction of the store. Thus, the judge found that the store was not negligent because the plaintiff failed to show that the store’s acts caused the deaths of her family members.

Have You Suffered Injuries Resulting from an Unexpected or Unusual Event?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries after an unusual or catastrophic event, you likely will need to show that the event was foreseeable. But even in the event of an extreme weather condition, it still may be foreseeable. The determination depends on the facts of each case. The Chicago premises liability attorneys at Moll Law Group can help those who have been victims of accidents. We serve accident victims and their families in Naperville, Schaumburg, Wheaton, and communities throughout Cook County. Use our online form or call us at 312-462-1700 to set up a free consultation.

See More Posts:

Woman Injured on Icy Hotel Sidewalk Fails to Provide Evidence of Hotel’s Duty to Train Employees, Must Retry Case, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, July 9, 2016.

Woman Fails to Provide Required Notice in Medical Malpractice Claim, Resulting in Dismissal, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, July 23, 2016.

Court Hold Adults Who Serve Alcohol to Minors May Be Liable for Related Injuries, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, August 9, 2016.