“Act of God” and Maritime Law

island with lighthouse being hit by wave


The phrase “act of god” can have a lot of meanings, particularly in a legal context.

Also known as “Force Majeure”, “act of god” is defined as “an instance of uncontrollable natural forces in operation”. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’re familiar with the effects – freak weather patterns, sudden storms, and other destructive events that occur in nature. 

Generally speaking, the term “act of god” is used in insurance claims to limit or remove liability for injuries, damages, and losses caused by these natural events. Companies such as live event promoters tend to rely on these to cover themselves in the event that an outdoor music festival is delayed or canceled due to inclement weather, for example.

However, the term act of god tends to make a number of appearances in maritime law, particularly these days, and the ways in which it is used can have an impact on the workers involved – as well as the industry as a whole.

Can “Act of God” Affect My Maritime Law Case?

The presence and use of “act of god” is one that has been hotly debated in the world of maritime law.

Under the Jones Act, all maritime shipowners and business owners have a duty to provide all reasonable safety accommodations for their workers, whether aboard a vessel, at the loading docks, or any other place of maritime employment. On the surface, this may sound simple – providing safety equipment for workers, ensuring the vessel and workplace is in fully operational condition, and the like. 

“Act of God”, however, adds a new dimension to the idea of reasonable safety accommodations. The ever-increasing number of intense storms and weather patterns seen over the past few years have given rise to a number of maritime cases where act of god is invoked, such as with large shipping companies.

However, many of these cases have found that there is still a responsibility for shipowners and maritime companies to attempt to prepare for these storms the best they can, no matter what kind of weather information they may have access to.

Take, for example, a recent case involving damage done to docked vessels during Hurricane Maria that led to a loss in revenue and employment. The shipowners attempted to invoke act of god to remove all responsibility and liability for the damages incurred; however, American maritime law (as well as a major case precedent) requires that accommodations against inclement weather are included as part of their reasonable safety accommodations, particularly when information about the oncoming storms was made available. As a result, act of god was no longer applicable to this claim.

So what does this mean for you? If you’ve been injured or otherwise incapacitated due to inclement weather while working or relaxing out at sea, you need to contact the maritime lawyers of O’Bryan Law. We can help work to determine the specific cause of your accident, and help defend your case from the big shipowners and insurance companies trying to claim Act of God or force majeure to get out of paying you what you’re owed. 

Contact O’Bryan Law today to begin a review of your claim, and let us help fight for you.