Lateral support is a legal theory that involves adjoining landowners. Legally, landowners have the right to natural and physical support of their land from properties that borders their property.

What Rights Do Landowners Have Concerning Lateral Support?

Landowners have a common law right to lateral support. Each landowner can expect to have their land supported in its natural condition by neighboring property. A neighbor who engages in excavation or substantial change to his or her own property in which an adjoining property is damaged as a result, the damaged property owner can bring suit.

When Is Someone Liable for Disturbing Another’s Lateral Support?

Liability for damaging another landowner’s right of lateral support fall into two general categories:

 1) Excavation

If property owner B excavates land from his property and as a result damages the lateral support of neighbor A, then B will generally be liable for any damages caused by landslips, landslides, or floods. During the excavation, neighbors engaged in excavation have a duty to take extra measures to protect neighboring property. Most states treat such disturbances as strict liability, meaning B does not have to be at fault for disturbing A’s lateral support – only that he does disturb it.

 2) Construction

If construction is occurring on neighboring property, most courts distinguish between the condition of the land, and determine liability accordingly. The most common distinction is:

  • Added Weight – If buildings improve land and an adjacent landowner’s excavation causes that improved land to collapse, the excavator will be liable only if he acted negligently in his construction. For example, if B did not exercise due care to avoid disturbing A’s lateral support when B constructed a home on neighboring land that cannot, B will be liable to A for any damages that result.
  • Natural State – Strict liability does not attach to the excavator’s actions unless Plaintiff shows that, because of Defendant’s actions, P’s improved land would have collapsed even in its natural state. (For strict liability to apply, P must show that the improvements on his land {i.e. the shrubs, the fountain, the structures}, did not contribute to his land’s collapse.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If the lateral support for your property has been disturbed, or you are facing liability to another person for disturbing their property’s lateral support, it is highly recommended for you to contact a real estate attorney. An attorney can help you understand your case and can defend your rights.