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Excavations Affecting Lateral Support

A landowner has the right to excavate on his/her land for lawful purposes.  S/he may excavate even close to the boundary line.  However, a landowner while excavating the land must protect the adjoining property in its natural state.  A Landowner must take adequate care to protect the adjoining property from collapsing or eroding away.  S/he must excavate in such manner that the neighbor’s land will not, by its own weight or through the action of the elements, fall into the excavation.  If the adjoining owner excavates so near the line that his neighbor’s soil is liable to give way, s/he must support it by artificial means.  If it is not supported by artificial means then s/he is liable for damages if it falls into the exaction. [i]

In, Seal v. Aldredge [ii] the plaintiff landowner had an easement over adjoining property. The defendant cut away a portion of defendant’s property causing the plaintiffs property to crack, subside, sink, cave in, wash, erode and fall away into the excavation.  The court found that an element of damage had accrued out of the lowering of grade of the adjoining property and depriving plaintiff the lateral support. The Court held that, one who lowers the grade of his/her land and thereby causes the adjoining land to erode and fall away is liable for the resulting damage.  If the adjoining owner removes the lateral support and disturbs the neighbor’s soil, he or she is liable for all damages.  There is liability even if the falling of soil is due to the action of elements.  But when the lateral support is removed by a superseding cause or other reason then there is no liability.[iii]

Even if the soil falls of its own weight and pressure, there is liability.  In, Covell v. Sioux City [iv], the Court observed that, “in making an excavation of earth close to the boundary line of adjoining land, reasonable precaution must be taken to prevent the neighbor’s soil from falling; and if this has been done and the soil falls of its own weight and pressure, the liability for injury to the land attaches.  If, however, the land falls solely from the weight of the superstructure thereon, no liability attaches for injury to either the soil or the superstructure; but, if the adjoining land sinks and falls by reason of the negligent manner in which the excavation was made, liability for injury to both the soil and the superstructure follows.”

A court will measure the damages by looking into the diminution of the value of the land by reason of the falling of the soil.  It is immaterial whether this falling be called “caving” or “washing,” if it is the natural and proximate result of removing the lateral support

[i] Franc v. Bethel Holding Co., 73 Conn. App. 114 (Conn. App. Ct. 2002)

[ii] 100 Ga. App. 458, 462 (Ga. Ct. App. 1959)

[iii] Puckett v. Sullivan, 190 Cal. App. 2d 489 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 1961)

[iv] 224 Iowa 1060 (Iowa 1938)

Inside Excavations Affecting Lateral Support