Flooding and heavy rain can do serious damage to your property and can cost thousands of dollars, or more, to repair. The law may offer protection against some types of water damage depending how the damage occurred.
What Is Considered a Natural Disaster?
When a natural disaster, or an “Act of God” destroys your property, no other landowner can be held liable for the damage that happened. A natural disaster may include:
- Mold damage
- Walls and insulation
- Hotel fees for temporary relocation
Water Damage Caused by Carelessness of a Landowner
If a neighbor’s careless act results in the artificial diversion of water to a landowner's property, the landowner may recover from the neighbor for the resulting damage. In general, a neighbor will not be responsible for damage to your property caused by runoff from naturally occurring land and rain conditions.
However, if the neighbor has landscaped their land or altered their land so that more water runs onto your land than would otherwise naturally occur, you may be able to recover from the neighbor for your damages. There are three types of law that may help your case:
- The Reasonable Use Rule is followed by a majority of states. Under this rule of law, if a neighbor alters their land, the neighbor may be liable for the resulting damage to your property if the alteration was unreasonable or unnecessary.
- The Common Enemy Rule treats all rainwater and other sources of water as a "common enemy" to landowners. Under this rule of law, landowners can take whatever steps they wish to prevent and protect his land from surface and runoff water.
- The Civil Law Rule imposes liability on any landowner that changes his or her land in a way that alters the natural flow of water across the land. Therefore, under the Civil Law Rule, if a neighbor alters their land resulting in damage to your property, you may have a claim to recover from the neighbor.
What Kind of Water Damage Can a Landowner Be Liable For?
If a person’s property suffers water damage due to the careless acts of a neighbor, the person may recover:
- Cost of repairs and replacements of damaged property
- Additional expenses (e.g., staying in a hotel until your property is repaired)
- Medical expenses (this includes physical or mental distress)
- Punitive damages if the neighbor acted with more than just negligence and knew the damage their act would cause
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have a Water Damage Problem?
Whether you suffered water damage or are accused of causing water damage, a real estate and property attorney can help you. A lawyer will know the specific laws in your state and can help you recover for your losses or defend you from liability.