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What If an “Act of God” Causes a Work Injury or Death?

By Butler Prather LLP on September 26, 2022

Most workplace injuries or illnesses happen due to an accident or negligence in the workplace. However, there are times when individuals are injured or killed on the job due to something outside of their control. There are times when natural disasters, freak accidents, or acts of God occur and lead to significant injuries or fatalities.

What is an Act of God

You have likely heard the phrase “act of God” before when it comes to incidents that occur and affect other individuals. Perhaps you have seen this phrase used in movies or TV shows, but this term can also come up in statutes as well as legal contracts. An act of God provision in a contract, often referred to as a force majeure (a French term that means superior strength), refers to an event that happens that is outside of human control or ability to predict. Provisions related to an act of God clause in a contract often seek to remove or limit liability for injuries or losses caused by the “act.”

However, insurance policies cannot be canceled by an act of God. Despite this, it is not uncommon for insurance carriers and their legal teams to try and interpret force measure clauses in the contract to try and deny or limit benefits that they legally owe another individual or family members of a deceased individual.

Some of the most common acts of God issues that can arise include injuries caused by uncontrollable events, such as natural disasters (floods, tornadoes, hail storms, bad thunderstorms, lightning strikes, etc.). Additionally, something like a tree falling on an individual could also be interpreted as an act of God.

Securing Benefits for an Injury or Workplace Death

An act of God or a “freak accident” may be something that an insurance carrier tries to use to wipe away blame and limit compensation paid out to family members after a workplace death. However, the Court of Appeals in Georgia has found that if an act of God occurs to a person when they are performing their job-related duties, and an injury or death happens, then they or their family members may be entitled to compensation.

In making their ruling based on a case where an insurance carrier originally denied benefits to a family after an act of God caused a workplace death, the court said the “test is not whether the injury was caused by an act of God, but whether the one injured was by his employment specially endangered by the act of God, be it lightning, tornado or windstorm.”

Nearly every employee in the state of Georgia is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they sustain an on-the-job injury or illness. Additionally, there are death benefits that apply in these situations. The insurance carrier cannot deny a claim just because an injury or death occurred as a result of an act of God.

Additionally, an employer could be held responsible through a third-party claim if they specifically allowed the employee to work during hazardous conditions or in a structure or area that did not meet safety standards. For example, suppose an individual was working in a warehouse during a bad thunderstorm. In most situations, this would not be an issue, but suppose that an employer failed to regularly inspect and maintain the premises, and the thunderstorm led to the building collapsing. This would be a situation where the extreme negligence of the employer could lead to them becoming liable through a third party claim by the family members if the employee lost their life.

Contact our Atlanta personal injury lawyers today.

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