Yes. In certain circumstances, a lawsuit can be brought for a landslide if it can be shown that a human contributed to the landslide’s effect. In most cases, such a lawsuit would involve fraud or negligence.
Possible human contributions to a landslide include:
- A neighbor removes lateral support from the surrounding property
- A real estate agent fails to disclose that landslides are common in the area
- A seller lies about the possibility of landslides
- A government agency declares the area inhabitable after making repairs or changes to the land
Are There Any Defenses to a Landslide Lawsuit?
The biggest defense to a lawsuit is that something other than the defendant was the cause of the landslide. Nature, such as rain or erosion, is a common defense.
Reverse causation may also be a defense. Suppose that a landslide victim claims that a government agency caused the landslide by failing to make a proper retaining wall. The government could argue that the wall delayed the landslide rather than cause the landslide.
If the landslide can’t be passed off as a random event, the next line of defense is contributory negligence. The owner took the risk that a landslide might occur when he or she bought the property. The owner could have foreseen that a landslide would occur because landslides commonly occur in the area. This defense depends on what state you’re in because landslides are more common in some states than others.
Finally, contracts may serve as deterrence to lawsuits. Property deeds in areas where landslides are common often contain clauses disclosing the presence of landslides and shielding the government agency or homeowner association from liability.
What If My Homeowner’s Insurance Refuses to Cover the Damage?
In states where landslides are common, insurance companies will find a way to excuse themselves from covering landslides. The contract provision can be explicit: "This agreement does not cover damage caused by earth movement." Likewise, insurance companies can avoid covering landslides by omission: "This agreement covers natural disasters, which is defined as fire or flooding."
In most cases, the best way to obtain coverage for landslides is to find an insurance company willing to insure landslides. However, there are a few cases where contract interpretation may be important. If the agreement promises to cover flooding, the homeowner would only have to prove that the landslide was caused by flooding.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Suing for damage from a landslide can be very difficult. Since most landslides are natural occurrences, proving that a human contributed to the damage caused by a landslide can be trickery. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you.