What is fortuitous event?

Article 1174 of the Civil Code of the Philippines discusses the concept of fortuitous event, to wit:
Art. 1174. Except in cases expressly specified by the law, or when it is otherwise declared by stipulation, or when the nature of the obligation requires the assumption of risk, no person shall be responsible for those events which could not be foreseen, or which, though foreseen, were inevitable. (1105a)
A fortuitous event is an event which cannot be foreseen, or which, although foreseeable, cannot be avoided. Therefore, it is not enough to say that an event is fortuitous if it is not impossible to foresee or to be avoided. Since a fortuitous event is unforeseeable and unavoidable, it is therefore independent of the will of the obligor/debtor. As a rule, the happening of a fortuitous event excuses the debtor from liability for the non-performance of obligation except: a) in cases expressly specified by law; b) when it is otherwise declared by stipulation; and c) when the nature of the obligation requires the assumption of risk. However, to exempt the debtor from liability for non-performance of obligation due to a fortuitous event, the following requisites must be present: a) the cause of non-performance of obligation must be independent of debtor's will; b) the event must either be unforeseeable or unavoidable; c) the event must render it impossible for the debtor to comply with his obligation in a normal manner; and d) the debtor must be free from any participation of the creditor's injury.

Moreover, in law, the terms caso fortuito and force majeure are identical in so far as they exempt an obligor from liability.[1] Both terms refer to causes independent of the will of the obligor. However, there is a technical distinction between the two. Caso fortuito is a fortuitous event independent of the will of the obligor but not of other human wills. Example of this are war, fire, robbery, and murder. On the other hand, force majeure are events which are totally independent of the will of every human being. The term generally applies to a natural accident. Example of this are earthquake, flood, lightning, and volcano eruption.[2]


[1] Rabuya. (2019). Obligations and Contracts.

[2] De Leon. (2014). Obligations and Contracts.

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