What Is an Act of God?

Force Majeure Explained

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An “act of God” is an unavoidable disastrous event caused by natural forces. This term includes floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural phenomena, and is often referred to in insurance policies.

When an act of God occurs, you’ll likely wonder if your homeowner’s insurance policy covers the damages. While standard insurance policies cover many types of natural phenomena, such as lightning and hailstorms, some perils aren’t included. To make sure you have the coverage you need, let’s look at some common classified acts of God, and how they’re handled with insurance companies.

Definition and Examples of an Act of God

When natural disasters not caused by humans strike, catastrophic events can ensue. These types of destructive forces are known as “acts of God.” Common phenomena classified as acts of God are:

  • Flood
  • Tornado
  • Lightning
  • Hailstorm
  • Earthquake
  • Fire (if caused by lightning or another natural force)
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Tsunami

In business contracts, acts of God (“force majeure”) are often used to describe unstoppable events (war, riots, natural disasters) beyond any party’s control that make normal business operations difficult or impossible. A force majeure clause could absolve a business of liabilities if it didn’t fulfill its contract requirements because of an act of God.

  • Alternate name: Force majeure (French for “superior force”)

For example, a forest fire caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette isn’t an act of God—it’s an act of humankind. But a raging wildfire caused by lightning is a natural disaster and considered an act of God.

How an Act of God in Insurance Works

Many acts of God are covered by the standard homeowners insurance policy. In most cases, your policy will list any acts of God your policy will and won’t cover.

Carefully review your insurance policies from time to time. If there are clauses in there that you don’t understand, ask your insurance agent. You don’t want to learn the hard way that your policy doesn’t cover something.

The most common homeowners insurance policy is an HO-3, also known as a “Special Form.” It typically covers damage to your personal property, home, and other structures resulting from 16 named perils. It also covers damage to your home and other structures (not personal property) resulting from other perils that aren't explicitly excluded in the policy. The named perils list contains occurrences such as lighting strikes. That means if lightning zaps a tree next to your home, setting the tree and your home on fire, you’d likely have a covered claim.

Which Acts of God Are Covered by Insurance?

Here’s a look at some common acts of God, and whether or not they’re typically covered in standard homeowners insurance policies.

Act of God Event Covered by a Standard Home Insurance Policy Additional Coverage Needed 
Wildfire Yes  Possibly, if you live in a fire-prone area
Volcanic Eruption Yes Consider adding earthquake insurance for additional protection
Earthquake No Earthquake insurance 
Tornado Depends on where you live Windstorm insurance 
Flood No Flood insurance 
Tsunami No Flood insurance
Lightning Yes N/A

Wildfires

Home insurance typically covers wildfires. However, if you live in an area where wildfires frequently occur, you may need to purchase additional coverage. Your agent can help you understand the terms and conditions of your policy.

Volcanic Eruptions 

Volcanic eruptions can cause several different types of damage. In addition to smoke, ash, and lava flows, the blast often causes earthquakes. Most insurance companies list volcanic eruptions as a peril that’s covered. However, any earthquake damage isn’t covered unless you have additional coverage through earthquake insurance.

Earthquakes

Most standard home insurance policies don’t cover earthquakes. If you live in an area where earthquakes are common, take time to learn about the additional insurance coverage you can purchase.

Tornadoes

Twisters bring lots of wind and in some cases, hail. While many insurance plans cover windstorms, you may need to purchase additional coverage if severe wind-related weather conditions often hit your area.

Think about the natural disasters that are common in your area. Does your homeowners insurance policy cover these events? If not, talk to your agent about what types of additional policies you can or should purchase.

Floods

Floods and flood damage aren’t covered by most insurance policies, even if they’re an indirect result of a covered act of God. For instance, hurricanes can cause wind damage and generate flooding. Your policy likely covers the damage from the hurricane’s wind but not the flooding resulting from a storm surge (unless you have additional coverage in place).

Tsunamis 

Since tsunamis bring large volumes of water ashore, they can cause flood damage. If you live near bodies of water affected by tsunamis, it’s a good idea to purchase flood insurance. You might also consider adding earthquake insurance since earthquakes cause some tsunamis.

Lightning 

Lightning strikes are often a covered peril. Depending on your policy, you may be able to file a claim for power-surge damages done during a lightning storm.

Key Takeaways

  • An act of God is an unexpected, severe natural disaster that wasn’t the result of human behavior.
  • Standard homeowners insurance policies cover some acts of God.
  • Floods, earthquakes, and windstorm insurance policies can help protect your home in the event of an act of God.