Southern California has been tormented by six recent wild fires that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of naturally occuring growth and plant cover in hills and mountains above major population centers and residential neighborhoods. Plant cover and natural landscaping provides soil stability, especially on cliffs, hillsides and sloping terrain. When large areas experience devastating wild fires, the result can often be subsequent landslides, debris flows and earth movement after continuous or heavy rainfall.
Just because a landslide occurs doesn't mean a property owner is entitled to damages or relief from the court; rather, an inverse condemnation attorney would have to show that substantial government participation or a public improvement was a contributing cause of the landowner's damage. In other words, a claim must go beyond the naturally occuring phenomina. Such cases can be complex and carry on for years. Issues of geomorphology, hydromorphology, soil engineering, earth movement, planning, forsight, and storm analysis are often critical components of inverse condemnation matters involving landslides and debris flows.
With thousands of acres of brush consumed by wildfires and many blazes still burning, the experts recognize that one significant rain could trigger deluges of land, ash, soot and mud that cause massive property damage and other losses.
If such events do occur and are the result of preventable circumstances, landowners should be prepared to consult with an experienced attorney to understand their options. Too often, homeowners find out too late that insurance protection they thought they had does not exist. Alternatively, it may be necessary to explore if there are likely liable parties or applicable laws that could form the basis of action to recover compensation.
Anticipating the worst, state and Los Angeles County officials confirm they are executing plans to try to prevent possible flash flooding and debris flows in the event any rains do fall. Scorched slopes and swales are getting hydro seeded, mulched and blanketed with straw as erosion control. Where possible, officials have stepped up maintenance at some flood and debris control sites. They are also providing homeowners with land engineering tactics they can employ.
One piece of advice we would offer is that private individuals be proactive in speaking with a skilled attorney about protecting rights and property in the event public project efforts don't work.