What Are ‘Acts of God’ and When Are they Covered?

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This car was crushed by a tree uprooted by Hurricane Irene in Baltimore.

This car was crushed by a tree uprooted by Hurricane Irene in Baltimore. (image by usatoday.com)

We think “acts of God” is a term with an ominous tone, but despite how it sounds, it doesn’t really mean to attribute blame to an event on God.  So what does it mean?
An “act of God” typically refers to any natural disaster that cannot be foreseen or prevented by humans. Things we cannot prevent include any naturally-occurring catastrophe, such as earthquakes, tornados, erupting volcanos, hail, lightning, windstorms and of course, hurricanes. This is why “acts of God” are also called acts of nature, or natural disasters.

Most insurers will cover natural disasters and other “acts of God” as covered by Comprehensive coverage.
This typically also covers theft and vandalism, and may include allotments for stolen or damage property that is kept inside your vehicle, such as clothes, valuables, or custom stereo equipment.   Unless events are specifically excluded, this is where payment comes for acts of God or nature.

Examples of Types of Loss Covered by Comprehensive Coverage
Most insurers offer specific definitions of what is and isn’t covered by Comprehensive coverage.  Some examples include:

  • Contact with an animal (including a bird).
  • Explosion or earthquake.
  • Fire.
  • Malicious mischief or vandalism.
  • Missiles or falling objects.
  • Riot or civil commotion.
  • Theft or larceny.
  • Windstorm, hail, water, or flood.
  • Breakage of glass not caused by collision.

Other Ways to Cover “Acts of God”
Certain types of coverage besides Comprehensive may be activated in the event of a natural disaster. For example, your insurer may deny that a claim was “caused” by a natural disaster or other Comprehensive type of loss, and may tell you that the claim must be filed under another type of coverage.  Additionally, if you don’t have Comprehensive coverage, these types of coverage may be used to cover your claim.  This can include:

  • Liability: This covers injuries to others or damage to the property belonging to others in the event of an accident where you are at fault. All fifty states require basic liability coverage. Liability or homeowner’s insurance may come into play if a person’s tree falls on your car, or if a neighbor’s pet runs into the road and causes you to crash your car.  In events like these, your insurer may attempt to put the blame on a negligent property owner rather than an “act of God.”
    On the other hand, if you run into a parked car because a dog jumped into the street, you may have no way to prove that it happened, and you may be left to pay for the other person’s damages using your Liability coverage.
  • Collision: This will cover items including the repair of your car in both at fault collisions and crashes, as well as in accidents where you are not your fault.  If you don’t have Comprehensive coverage, you can use your Collision coverage instead, however doing this may affect your rates differently than if you have Comprehensive.

“Proximate Cause” Rules
Some states have precedence set in the state law or jury instructions on how to interpret chains of events.  In some states, the first event in a chain of events can be considered as the “cause” of damage.  For example, if a volcano eruption is covered under your policy, and it causes a dam to break and subsequently flood your home, some states might consider the volcano to be the “cause” of the flood damage.  If you have coverage for volcanic eruptions but not flood protection, you could still get your claim paid.  

Chances are, you may have to go to court and do battle with your insurance company if they try to deny this type of circumstance, so it’s best to consult with an attorney if your insurer is denying all or part of a claim for a natural disaster.

If your state does not recognize “proximate cause” as a contributing factor, then you would have to rely on flood insurance to cover your damage, even though it was initially started by a volcanic eruption.

Some Exceptions
Some insurers have exceptions for floods, storms, or other factors depending on where you live.  Drivers in coastal regions and high-risk storm areas may have to buy extra insurance for these types of disasters.  Drivers in midwestern states may have to purchase extra coverage for tornadoes or hail damage, as well. As always, check with your insurance company and read your policy to make sure you’re fully covered.

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