Mudslides are responsible for $1 billion to $2 billion of damages in the United States every year. Mudslides can take out an entire neighborhood, destroy homes and threaten people's lives. Living in a mountainous place might occasionally worry you about the threat of a mudslide and wonder whether your insurance company would cover the damages that would result.

Unfortunately, many people have experienced insurance denial after a mudslide. There are strict languages used in home insurances, and most of them do not cover mudslide damages due to the infrequency and extensive damages caused by them. Either way, you have the right to be protected and reimbursed by your insurance company. Please schedule an appointment with Stop Insurance Denial Law Firm today and let us tirelessly fight for the compensation that you deserve.

Understanding the Causes of Mudslides and Effects of Mudslide Damages

Mudslides occur when a large amount of water causes rapid soil erosion on a steep slope. Extensive rainfall or rapid snowmelt can trigger a mudslide since a large volume of water mixed with the soil liquefies can move downhill.

Mudslides can vary from mud thick mud with lots of debris to watery mud. This debris includes trees, boulders, houses, cars, and anything that falls on its path. Since mudslides contain a lot of water, they can be more dangerous than a landslide or flood and can move up to 50 miles per hour, laying waste on everything along its way.

Please note, a mudflow is different from a mudslide. Mudflow is a debris flow of river mud and liquid. A mudflow has rocks like sticks and other debris flow, which are vital to the mudflow. It occurs like a liquid, usually from a mixture of water and mud. They typically occur on dry surfaces. A mudflow typically happens as part of a flood or snowmelt since the environment around is usually saturated to cause a debris flow.

Mountainous regions altered by buildings and roads are at risk of mudslides. Human actions and natural events like wildfire can also cause mudslides since they cause erosion, resulting in a mudslide.

Effects of Mudslides

Mudslides can have significant and devastating effects on everything along its path. It would be best if you understood these types of effects to be in a better position of making a reasonable compensation claim from your insurance company. Below are several impacts of mudslide you should know about.

  1. Effects on Land

Mudslides move at an approximate speed of 20mph and contain rocks, trees, and other debris. This means that it can rip land to pieces, leaving large mud deposits and gullies. Mudslides can also be devastating on agricultural land by destroying all the crops.

  1. Effects on Property

Due to the nature of the places that are prone to mudslides, buildings are not entirely safe. Brick and concrete buildings are usually safe due to their solid foundations and the probability of having the slide stop beforehand. Outbuildings like stables, watersheds, or anything attached to the main building are usually at risk if they do not have a strong foundation that can bear the full force of a mudslide.

  1. Effects on Infrastructure

In the same way that mudslides affect lands and properties, they can also destroy a particular area’s infrastructure. Mudslides can damage utility pipes bringing down communication lines, power lines, and other essential utility lines.

  1. Effects on People

People along the direct path of slides, especially those living below ground level, are at significant risk of death. According to a survey done by the Geological Survey, at least 100 people died due to mudslides between 1978 and 2003.

  1. Effects on Rivers

Sometimes mudslides tend to reach areas that they cannot cross, like in a river. In this situation, the mud will flow into the river and the ocean. This causes large sit deposits on river beds and causes harm to plants and marine plants. In the end, animals relying on water, and the local population are affected.

  1. Effects of Mudslide Cleanup

After a mudslide, all the destruction made has to be cleaned up. Cleanup costs time and money, although disaster relief usually helps out with this kind of situation. Specialists have to be brought to the mudslides' location to handle the recovery process’s critical procedures. Although there is external help during mudslide cleanups, there are other detailed processes that homeowners have to handle out of their pocket.

Cases of Mudslide Insurance Denial

On 4th December 2017, a transformer malfunction ignited a massive fire known as the Thomas Fire in the rugged terrain of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in California. The fire lasted until 12th January 2018, when the authorities contained it, leaving more than 400 sq mi of the destroyed area and 1,000 damaged and destroyed structures. The insured loss ranked up to $2.5 billion.

Subsequently, on 9th January 2018, a massive amount of rain fell in the fire areas. Unfortunately, the vegetation that would have absorbed the rainfall was destroyed by the fire, leading to a mudslide towards the Pacific Ocean. The mudslide's debris floor covered an area of 1,000 feet wide, changing an elevation in some of the neighborhood to as much as six feet.

The mudslide left Eighty-two million pounds of mud and debris on the Ventura County fairground due to the gradual relocation from other regions. An estimated 128 homes in Montecito were destroyed, and another 307 houses were damaged. Tragically, 23 lives of adults and children died due to the mudslide, the majority of whom were not under the mandatory evacuation orders at that time.

Challenges in the Santa Barbara and Ventura Mudslide Claims

Typical home insurance policies do not cover mudslide claims. So if you have incurred mudslide damages, you will need to pay for the damages out of your pocket. The only insurance that would cover mudflow damages is flood insurance, which is available through some private insurance companies and FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is the agency that supports citizens after emergencies.

Due to this challenge, most homeowners living in the affected areas could not be compensated by their insurance companies after the damages they'd incurred through the mudslide. Ironically, property owners affected by the Thomas Wildfire were likely covered, but those that experienced losses through mudflow would wait to see how their insurers would respond to their claims.

Mudslide damages are excluded in typical homeowners' insurance policy through the "exclusion" policy. This made it challenging for affected homeowners to have the compensation they deserve.

Effect of “Efficient Proximate Cause Doctrine” in California Mudslide Damage Cover

On 29th January 2018, Dave Jones, the California insurance commissioner, issued a formal notice to all insurers reminding them of their duty to cover damages from the mudslide. His argument was backed by the efficient proximate cause doctrine, which allows compensation for events close to circumstances covered by an insurance policy.

This means that the Thomas fire’s destruction was the proximate cause of the mudslide that happened, indicating that homeowners were eligible for coverage through their policies. When defining “efficient proximate of a loss,” terms like "predominant" and "most important" cause would come into play. Therefore, it doesn't matter if an excluded peril like mudslide also contributed to the loss as long as the covered peril (which is the Thomas Fire) was covered and was predominant in causing the losses.

Regarding the Commissioner's statement, he pointed out the need for insurers to undertake diligent investigation and carefully consider the mudslide’s underlying cause before denying claims.

Effects of Earth Movement Exclusion on Mudslide Damage Insurance Claims

One of the most significant considerations for parties claiming compensation for their mudslide damages is the existence of earth movement exclusion on their property insurance. The exclusion is a clause in a general liability policy that removes coverages under the policy for damages or injuries wholly or partly caused by all earth or land movement types, whether natural or due to human action.

A typical version of the exclusion reads as follows: The insurance does not apply to any property damage or injuries directly or indirectly caused by, connected, related, or involves any movement of the earth, whether naturally occurring, artificial, or caused by unnatural occurrences.

These movements include contraction, compression, subsidence, compaction, heaving, erosion, landslide, wind-driven, mudslide, thawing, or any other type of earth movement regardless of its cause.

Under this context, earth includes soil, terrain, mud, silt, clay, sand, rocks, and any other substance contained therein.

With this kind of clause on typical homeowners' insurance policies, it's challenging for property owners to be compensated for damages and injuries caused by mudslides.

Fighting Earth Movement Exclusion Policies in Mudslide Damage Claims

The ability to fight an earth movement exclusion policy in your mudslide damage claim depends on the exclusion clause's specifics in your insurance agreement. In most cases, the exclusion policies remain ambiguous on the type of earth movement excluded on the specific insurance policy. The use of the word "any earth movement "is regularly used and is not defined in the insurance policy.

The term "any earth movement" can be all-encompassing, meaning all, or every, or indicate one selected cause without indicating a maximum or whole. Therefore, the court can find this clause in policies ambiguous and without any limitation on what causes a concurrent event or cause. Therefore, there are chances that the plain language used in this kind of lead-in-clauses makes it clear for the exclusion to apply regardless of whether the damages are concurrent to mudslide events.

The only reasonable way a court can reimburse the policyholder is through the “effective proximate cause doctrine” as in the Thompson Fire and mudslide damages. At this point, the insurance policies probably allow coverage for fire-related damages. Since the Thompson Fire is a proximate cause to the mudslide damages, insurance companies can compensate the policyholder for the losses incurred.

Insurance for Mudslide Damages

The best way to avoid being caught between an earth movement exclusion policy and your mudslide insurance claim is by getting an insurance cover that covers mudflow. A flood insurance available with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and with several private insurance companies is the best shot towards your property insurance.

Federal flood insurance is available for business owners, renters, and homeowners. It can cover an overflow of inland or tidal waters and unusual accumulation of runoffs of the surface from water sources. You can purchase this policy directly from the federal government through a FEMA-authorized agent or insurance company.

Using Difference-in-Conditions (DIC) Coverage for your Mudslide Damages

Difference-in-conditions is an insurance product that provides extra coverage to property owners. Typically, this insurance product provides coverage against natural disasters like a mudslide, flooding, and other disasters that result from earth movements.

The DIC typically provides a separate policy that is less regulated than others. Insurers do not have to file their rates on the policy forms with the insurance regulators. Therefore, they are free to use whatever conditions and rates that they want.

Before you buy a difference-in-conditions coverage, you must note how they define mudslide. These policies might have a different meaning than the standard commercial property policy. For instance, in an NFIP policy, the term flood might include mudflows and mudslides, whereas the DIC excludes mudflows and mudslides. This kind of conflict between your policies can be problematic to your insurance claims. That's why it's recommendable to read your insurance policy's fine prints to ensure that you are fully compensated.

Suing Utility Companies due to Mudslide Damages

Back to the mudslide disaster in Southern California, a suit claiming that the explosion resulted from an explosion or fire of one of the South California Edison (SCE) transformers sparked the enormous Thomas Fire. This was followed by another transformer fire nearly 6 miles away, which became the second ignition point.

The lawsuit also claimed that the 9th January 2018 mudslide occurred because of the burned place’s lack of vegetation. Further, the claim argued that if SCE had acted responsibly by adequately maintaining their power line and transformers and safely trimmed the tinder-dry vegetation around their equipment, the fire would not have broken out.

Another lawsuit was filed against the water district, accusing them of not having adequate shut-off valve systems to stop water flow when one of their main water tanks burst in the hills above Montecito. At least 8 million gallons of water from the large tank joined the rainfall, which led to the mudslide. Although there is no formal statement or response from the water district, filing a civil lawsuit against them holds ground on their responsibility in mitigating the effects of the mudslide.

Ways to Maximize Your Mudslide Damage Insurance

Knowing what to do after a major disaster like a mudslide can make a big difference in how quickly you can be compensated. Based on the information provided above, a disaster claim, especially mudslide damage, can be stressful, and at times you can end up paying for your losses. Therefore, you must have several ways up your sleeves that can help you maximize your compensation. Below are a few tips that you can use.

Understand Your Policy

Most property owners aren't reimbursed after a disaster since they don't understand their insurance policies. Importantly, read the earth movement exclusion clause in your standard home insurance and confirm the extent of coverage that it has on any mudslide damages you might incur. Read the fine prints of your comprehensive insurance, NFIP insurance, or DIC policy to confirm whether it will fully cover your losses.

Call your Insurance Company

Whether there is an inclusion of an earth movement exclusion clause in your insurance policy or not, it's essential to call your insurance company after a mudslide disaster. Sometimes your insurance policy might contain a clause that advises the insurer to take the liability of some of the losses incurred. Failure to follow the insurance contract can put you at risk of nullifying your insurance, which you probably don't want to do.

Apart from that, your insurance company has experts that can help you. A claim might seem pretty straightforward to you, but the insurance company has experience in the entire industry and can help you assess the damage's real implication.

Show Your Insurance Company that They Cannot Take Advantage of You

Even the most neighborly or friendliest insurance agent would go out and try to take advantage of you, especially when there are slim chances of being compensated. Their job is to minimize losses and make profits for their companies, meaning that there is a possibility of being taken advantage of by the adjusters. To prevent being taken advantage of, you must show them that you're knowledgeable of the insurance policies and the claim process. Ensure that they know that you know the claim process and are aware of the contractual obligations and obligations.

Hire a Public Claim Adjuster

Public adjusters work on your behalf, and you have to pay nothing out of pocket to work with them since they will take a percentage of the final settlement. The public adjuster will also handle the claim process, including negotiation with the insurance company on your behalf. Since this is what they do for a living, the adjuster will do everything possible to ensure that you get compensated. They also know contractors, electricians, and other specialists who would help restore your home at a fair price.

Have the Right Documents with You

Start by taking pictures of the damages caused by the mudslide. If you decide to start cleaning the mess, take photos of the additional damages, like bowing floorboards and a cracked floor. You should also take extensive and detailed notes of everything else, including the mudslide proceedings. You should also note the phone calls made with your insurance company, witnesses, neighbors, or people you’ve spoken to throughout your claim process. This also involves the contractor giving you estimates for all repairs you have to make.

Always be Polite

Understandably, you are not in the right mind after a mudslide, but it's always best to remain calm while engaging your insurer. The company might be owing you compensation for the damages caused by the mudslide, but you'll be slimming your hopes if you keep yelling at the insurance adjuster over the phone. Do not contact the attorney until you’re calm.

Ensure that You Are First in Claim Process

Staying ahead of your claim process gives you an upper hand in being compensated as expected. Meet all your deadlines on time and always speak to your insurance agent throughout the claim process. Ensure that you have every information that they ask for and respond to them promptly. Keep all the receipts for any further expenses that arise when stopping further damages to your property. You'll need them while adding the costs to your compensation claim.

Know About your Repair Estimates

The worst thing that would happen to you is failure to acknowledge that it will cost you to make necessary repairs to your property. That's why you should contact several contractors and get estimates on the cost to repair all damages to your property. This will help you fall on an exact amount once the insurance adjuster proposes a settlement offer. It also enables you to argue with your insurance company when the adjuster proposes a low offer to manage a quality repair.

Hire an Attorney

If the insurance company won't raise your settlement or isn't willing to settle your damages, hiring an insurance claim attorney should be your next move. An attorney will help you investigate and help you fight any low settlement offers.

Find an Insurance Denial Attorney Near Me

Regardless of the extent of your insurance claim, insurance companies do not always act in your best interest. They aim to make the most profit possible, and that's why they employ lawyers to fight clients challenging denied claims. You need a seasoned attorney to stand up for you and get the compensation you deserve. Stop insurance Denial Law Firm has experienced and skilled attorneys with the tenacity to hold insurance companies accountable for your mudslide damage. Call us today at 310-695-5241 and let us help you get through your situation.