News Room

Mudslides and Insurance: What Homeowners Should Know

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

The shocking images of destruction left in the aftermath of the deadly Montecito, CA mudslides offer a stark reminder of the damage caused by Mother Nature. Searchers are struggling to find several missing people as they encounter obstacles like blocked roads, downed power lines and debris. According to news reports, the torrent of mud and rocks killed at least 20 people.

Natural disasters such as fires, floods and mudslides have become a regular part of life in some areas of California, which is bad news for homeowners. These disasters show no mercy and have impacted large residential areas in and around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Napa Valley and beyond. Mudslides in particular are dangerous because they destroy everything in their path and leave beyond sometimes several feet of sludge to dig out of, meaning having a homeowner’s policy with adequate coverage is vital. Mudslides cause almost $2 billion in damage and kill 25-50 Americans every year.

A mudslide is a mass of mud and other earthy material that falls down a hillside or slope. Most homeowner’s insurance policies exclude flood, mudslide, landslide and earthquake insurance and so supplemental insurance must be expressly purchased. Mudslide insurance can cost in the range of $1,000 per year depending upon the value of the home where the mudslides occur. Areas recently impacted, such as Montecito, may see a sharp cost increase in this type of insurance. It is also important to note that landslides, mudslides and mudflow are all considered different “perils” and each requires a different type of coverage.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a mudflow is a runny, watery stream of mud, while a mudslide is a downhill movement of water-saturated earth or rock. This could be very important if your insurance company is attempting to avoid paying out your claim, so in addition to having as much coverage as possible, it’s important to know how experts are defining the disaster. A tragedy may begin as mudflow and then become a mudslide, and so an insurance company may attempt to argue that because a certain house was in one area or another, it was not covered for that particular type if disaster.

In many parts of California, mudslides happened because large fires first burned away trees and plants and so the earth had nothing holding it down when heavy rains occurred. When this happens, the home insurance claim may be covered under fire loss, although convincing your insurance company of that will take some effort.

Heavy waters may be defined as flood insurance, so knowing the exact specification of the disaster you have suffered will make a big difference. The National Flood Insurance Program from FIMA offers flood and mudflow coverage up to $250,000 for homeowners and $500,000 for businesses. Some homeowner’s policies may not provide adequate flood insurance and so again, supplement insurance is important.

The more coverage you have, the better your chances are of being able to rebuild after a disaster has occurred. Too often, insurance companies will hide behind policy language, even if it means causing people to become homeless.

The last line of defense for most Californians is hiring an attorney once something goes terribly wrong, but it may be useful for any homeowner to contact an attorney with insurance experience to review a policy and see if they’ve purchased the proper amount of coverage.

A mass disaster tort is a civil action that involves a large group of plaintiffs who’ve suffered injuries and consolidate their cases to sue one or a few corporations in state or federal court.

KBK has many years of experience handling mass tort cases and multi-district litigation. If you or a loved one has experienced injuries due to a disaster, a dangerous drug or a defective product, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Kabateck LLP to learn more about recovering damages and exploring your options.