A landowner has the legal right to have his or her land physically supported by adjoining land and underground structures.
By building a house or building structure near the margin of the land, a landowner cannot prevent the adjoining landowner from excavating his or her own soil, even though it may endanger the house or building structure. However, negligence creates an undue risk of harm to others. Negligence becomes actionable when it is the proximate cause of any injury or damage done. An excavator is bound to exercise reasonable care and caution in conducting the excavation process and avoid negligent injuries caused to the adjoining landowner.
In Pacific Indem. Co. v. Rathje, 188 N.W.2d 338 (Iowa 1971), a commercially improved land was occupied by the plaintiff. The defendant, adjoining property owner wanted to construct a new building. A contractor was hired to perform excavation work who went straight down the visible foundation and four feet below footings of the plaintiff’s building. The contractor or the owners did not provide bracing or shoring to secure the building from damage. Later, cracks appeared in the owners’ structure. The owners assigned a cause of action to the assignee. The assignee filed an action against the contractor to recover for damages allegedly caused by the excavation. A cross-petition was also filed by the contractor against the neighbor upon which the trial court entered judgment favoring the contractor. Upon appeal, the appellate court affirmed that the assignee presented insufficient proof in support of its allegation against the contractor that the excavation was the immediate cause of damage to the plaintiff’s structure. The court explained that there was evidence that the weight of the plaintiff’s building had caused the damage and the neighbor was not bound to provide lateral support for the plaintiff’s building.