Vis Major

DEFINITION of 'Vis Major'

A Latin term meaning "act of God", or an occurrence that is neither caused by nor preventable by humans. In commercial contracts, vis major can also apply to actions undertaken by third parties that neither party to the contract can control, such as failure by a supplier or subcontractor to perform. The terms "vis major", "act of God" and "force majeure" are commonly used in contracts to exclude one or both parties from liability and/or obligation when events beyond their control occur.


Insurance contracts often exclude coverage for damage caused by vis major, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. Sometimes these events can be insured against with a rider or separate, specialized policy. Also, a finding that an adverse event was caused by vis major can exempt a defendant in a lawsuit from liability.