Protecting Your Rights In California Since 1986

Who is liable if a landslide damages my property?

Earth movement issues like landslides, mudslides and even cliff-side failures can cause catastrophic issues for homeowners in California. Unfortunately, such problems are not uncommon. Just a few years ago over 100 homeowners in the La Jolla neighborhood faced evacuation due to landslide issues. To make matters worse, home insurance policies often exclude these types of issues from their coverage. This may leave a homeowner wondering how they will cover the cost to repair their property.

In some cases, another party may be liable for the damage caused by the earth movement event. Some examples can include:

#1: Developers

Homeowners can hold developers who design and build new communities liable through various legal theories if the properties they sell are damaged by an earth movement event. The best course of legal action will depend on the details of the case. Possibilities include fraudulent misrepresentation if the developer is not truthful about the site used for the property or if they were negligent in their practices.

If the damage occurs shortly after the development is complete, the homeowners could use the legal theory of strict liability. This type of liability works in the property owner’s favor as it often requires less evidence to build your case.

#2: Previous owners

State law generally requires owners disclose certain known conditions — generally including the presence of problems that suggest a potential landslide or other earth movement event. Problems that can qualify include a sudden crack or gap in the lawn or foundation. Liability is possible if the previous owner took steps to repair or hide these issues and did not disclose these events to potential buyers.

#3: Neighbors

There are instances when neighbors owe each other a duty to prevent an earth movement event. For example, you may have cause to argue a neighbor should have built a retaining wall to reduce the risk of a mud or landslide.

#4: Government

A claim may exist against the government if the event is the result of the building of a road or a failure to include proper drainage routes from a roadway. Other potential issues include poor waterline management and fire hydrant leaks.

It is important to note that although, as discussed above, insurance policies generally exclude damage caused from earth movement events from coverage there are instances when a policyholder can successfully challenge the insurance provider. California courts have held that in order to survive such a challenge, the language of the policy must be clear. A reasonable person should be able to understand that the event is not included in coverage. If the language of the policy is not clear, the policyholder could fight back and get the insurance company to cover the repair expenses.