Act of God

On the BBC News this morning they were interviewing people who were getting off a ferry in Dover at the end of incredibly long journeys back to the UK. One of them was asked if his travel insurance would reimburse him for the extra costs he had incurred and he said that the costs weren’t covered as the volcano was seen as an “act of god”.

That got me thinking. Three points sprang to mind.
  1. Is it still reasonable for insurance companies to use medieval language like “act of god”? I mean, insurance policies are very carefully composed. Does language like that really have a place in a legal document in the twenty-first century?
  2. Given that some (many? most?) insurance companies apparently think it’s ok to use this nonsensical language in policies, is there a business opportunity for an insurance company that specialises in rational policies? I’d be more inclined to buy a policy that didn’t expect me to accept the existence of mythical creatures from the bronze age.
  3. The “act of god” clause is used to get out of paying for things that the insurance company don’t want to pay for. It’s effectively shorthand for “something that we couldn’t have predicted” (but isn’t that pretty much the whole point of insurance anyway?) But, of course, nothing is an act of god. Things like the volcanic ash cloud are simply natural processes. So if an insurance company tried to get out of paying for something by saying that it’s an act of god, would it be possible to take them to court and expose this claim as the nonsense that it is? Has anyone tried that?

Nothing is an act of god. So surely nothing should be excluded from insurance cover because of that clause. So I don’t understand why it’s still included in policies.

Any insurance experts out there who would like to explain it to me?

4 thoughts on “Act of God

  1. As far as my very vague knowledge (from helping my mum learn the list of uninsurable risks for some exams many years ago by running around the front room miming them [my 'malicious damage' was rumoured to be particularly good]) goes, Act of God is a simply a legal term and that changing the term could lead to large amounts of pain and hassle. I’m not entirely sure that it ever really meant ‘something that God did’ rather than just something that couldn’t be blamed on someone (even if that blame is for not guessing that a thing was likely to happen).So, while I think it would be nice for some more secular language to appear in the policies of a insurance company I suspect that we won’t see it due to the legal fun and games.That said, I wonder if a ‘For the purposes of this contract use of the term “Act of Sod’s Law” should be taken as equivalent to “Act of God”‘ would work…

  2. Nobody brings a corpse into court to answer a habeas corpus writ.I’m all for secularism in our lives, but there’s nothing religious about this. It’s jargon.

  3. So if an insurance company tried to get out of paying for something by saying that it’s an act of god, would it be possible to take them to court and expose this claim as the nonsense that it is? Has anyone tried that?

    You must immediately rent and watch “The Man who Sued God”

  4. @Sam: Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve added it to my LoveFilm list. Looks exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.

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