“Acts of God” and What They Mean for Your Auto Insurance


Night storm over city
5 min read

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A tree falls on your parked car, torrential rains flood your vehicle, golf-ball sized hail dents the entire body of your brand new ride: in each case, an auto insurance company could determine the damage was caused by an “act of God,” and the necessary repairs might not be covered at all, even if you have auto insurance. How, you might wonder, can someone with proper car insurance still be responsible for these kinds of damages? And how can you make sure you have coverage for these potentially devastating events? We explain.

Man standing with flooded car in street

Act of God: Defined

The kinds of events that are considered acts of God by the folks issuing your car insurance policy are, essentially, natural disasters. An act of God is something that could not have been prevented or avoided, either by caution or preparation. So, if your neighbor’s tree uproots due to high winds and falls onto your car, their insurance will most likely not cover your damages, and unless you have comprehensive insurance that explicitly covers acts of God, your insurance might not cover repair expenses, either.

When shopping for auto insurance or reviewing your existing policy, be aware that the fine print might not actually spell out “acts of God” or when/if they are covered. Each company will list exactly what events are covered, and under which circumstances, for which coverage options, so it’s up to you, the customer, to make sure you have the coverage you need. So, for example, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, be sure to ask your agent whether your policy offers coverage in the event your vehicle is damaged by a wildfire. Ditto for tornados, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, and big storms that might bring hail.

The time to ask about specifics is before an event like one of these occurs (and ideally, you’ll ask while car insurance shopping). Keep in mind: if your vehicle is damaged (or even totaled) in an “act of God” event, comprehensive insurance will only reimburse you for the current market value of the vehicle. So, if your car isn’t worth much to begin with, paying the higher monthly premium that comes along with comprehensive insurance might not be worth it.

An 'Act of God' is something that could not have been prevented or avoided, either by caution or preparation.

Act of God vs. Negligence

If your auto insurance company, or another responsible party’s insurance, declares an event an act of God and therefore refuses coverage, there are still options. You can refute the finding, if you think you have grounds. An example: your neighbor’s tree falls onto your parked car, crushing and totaling it. Your neighbor’s insurance declares the event an act of God, and refuses reimbursement, leaving you to cover the costs yourself. Now, if the tree fell during a big storm, your neighbor’s insurance company might be correct in their assessment, and you might have to either pay out of pocket or make a claim to your own insurance. But say the tree was large, unwieldy, had never been trimmed, and was infested with termites and rot. Because these are the types of things that can be preventatively addressed by a responsible homeowner, you might have grounds for claiming negligence on the part of your neighbor, in which case they will most likely have to cover your costs, either out of pocket or with another type of insurance (such as liability or homeowner’s).

Car crushed with tree on shattered windshield

Act of God: How to Protect Yourself

It is possible to purchase auto insurance coverage for acts of God: in most cases, you’ll need comprehensive insurance. Each carrier has different terms, so be sure to look at specifics, but these events are generally covered by comprehensive insurance:

  • Vandalism
  • Falling objects
  • Broken glass not caused by a collision
  • Riot or civil commotion
  • Theft or larceny
  • Windstorm, hail, water, fire, earthquake or flood
  • Damage from hitting an animal (including a bird)
  • Explosion

 

A tip: Once insurance reimbursement becomes a battle, either with another party or the carrier themselves, it’s a good idea to seek legal representation.

An act of God — and which auto insurance coverage you need for it — is one of those details that can get overlooked when shopping for car insurance, but if you find yourself in a sticky situation, you’ll be happy you thought about it beforehand.