Facts: In 1960 P bought a house on the side of a mountain. The house had been
constructed in 1929. 4 years after P purchased the house, they became aware that the
wall under their front porch was giving way and that the living room plaster had cracked.
D lived directly below the P’s at the foot of the mountain in a house built in 1912.
Sometime between 1912-1919, a wall of stone and concrete was constructed along the
side of the hill, ten to twelve feet behind D’s house to support the adjacent land. The way
was considerable in size and lay entirely on D’s property, approx. 10 feet from the
property line between D and P. D purchased their house in 1955, before D had purchased
the house, the wall had fallen into disrepair. P’s house began to slip down the hill, and
they complained that the reason for this was D not repairing the wall. Damages to P’s
house cost them 6k. Action was filed in 1968 for $50k in damages for failure of D to
provide lateral support for P’s land, and her negligent failure to provide lateral support
for their house. P alleged that the wall was constructed to provide support to the slope
upon which the house was built, and that the disrepair and collapse of the wall cause the
slipping and damage to P’s home. D claimed P was negligent for failing to take
precautions to protect their own home and that D had no duty to repair the wall because it
was erected by a predecessor and P purchased their home with knowledge of the
deteriorating wall. Trial court partially sustained summary judgment for D, P could not
recover damage to their dwelling or buildings, but may be about to recover for damages
to their land.
Issue: Is an adjacent landowner liable for both damages to the land and damages to any
buildings if they fail to support his neighbors property in is raw or natural condition?
Holding: Reversed and remanded
– Lateral support is found when supporting lands of adjacent neighbors or by
nearby neighbors share a vertical plane. A withdrawal of lateral support may
subject the landowner withdrawing the support to strict liability or negligence
– Under strict liability theory, an excavation made by an adjacent owner so as to
take away lateral support makes the former liable for injury, not matter how
carefully he may have excavated. Strict liability however, is limited to land in its
natural state, and there is no obligation to support the added weight of buildings
that the land cannot naturally support. But, in most American states, if the land
would be capable of holding the weight of buildings and an owner suffers an
injury to his land and building, he may recover for both.
– The converse is also true. Where an adjacent landowner provides sufficient
support to sustain the weight of land it its natural state, but the land slips due to
additional weight by a building, in the absence of negligence, there is no cause of
action at all. In this case, if the weight of P’s house placed so much pressure on
the soil that the house itself cause the subsidence, and the land would not have
subsided without the weight of the house, P cannot recover
– An actor who removes natural lateral support and replace it with an artificial
support, the wall becomes an incident to and a burden on the land and subsequent
owners have an obligation to maintain it. In this case, P’s house did not exist
when D’s predecessor built the wall. The wall needed only to support the land in
its natural state, without a house on it. This is therefore D’s obligation to P, there
was no requirement to strengthen the wall to the extent that it would support the
weight of P’s buildings
– Though an adjoining landowner has no obligation to support the buildings on his
neighbor’s land, if those structures are actually being supported, the landowner
must withdraw support in a non-negligent way. Negligence may come in two
ways, 1. the neighbor may make an unnecessary and unreasonable excavation that
will cause harm to his neighbors with out reasonable precautions or 2. the
neighbor may fail to provide against the risk of harm to his neighbor’s structures.
A neighbor who should be a aware of a risk, or should have taken precautions in
preparation of such a risk may be held liable
– A duty of support cannot be enlarged by the addition of artificial structures to the
land, the duty of a successor in title cannot be greater, where he has done no act to
deprive the structures of their support.
– Thus, P can only recover if they can show that the disrepair of the wall would
have led to the subsidence of their land in its natural condition
Strict Liability–Property
As a matter of property law, land owners have a right to lateral support
The right extends only to the land in its natural state, there is no additional duty for
buildings or other structures
Liability as a matter of property law, would only occur if the injury would have occurred
with the land in its natural state
Damages will be provided to both land and building injuries if the land could have
supported buildings in its natural state