A closer look at property damage caused by ground vibration — III

In a series of ongoing posts, our blog has been providing some basic background information on how unsuspecting homeowners can sustain serious property damage through the severe ground vibration generated by heavy machinery (dump trucks, pile drivers, construction equipment, etc.), and how this damage can be either cosmetic or structural in scope.

As alarming as this possibility can seem, it’s important for homeowners to understand that they are not without options for protecting themselves in the event they learn of planned construction within the vicinity of their property.

Under what circumstances would a person even consider taking precautions against possible ground vibration damage?

According to experts, homeowners may consider the possibility of taking precautions if a major construction project is scheduled to take place within roughly 300 yards of their home.

What precautions should a person consider taking?

First and foremost, experts advise homeowners in these situations to compile a comprehensive visual record documenting the condition of every room of the house, as well as its exterior and any surrounding structures before the project breaks ground.

While this visual record should ideally be made on video with voice narration, experts indicate that a photo record is also acceptable provided it is accompanied by a written log detailing the necessary information.

What other precautions can be taken?

While a complete listing of all precautions is beyond the scope of a single blog post, some of the additional recommendations made by experts include:

  • Search the internet for information about the project — typically available on a government website — and print all applicable information for your record.
  • Attend any and all pre-construction meetings in order to learn more, share concerns and ask the necessary questions, including whether ground vibration monitoring will occur, whether blasting will be performed, whether pre-construction surveys will take place and what type of equipment will be used.
  • Investigate the contractor retained to complete the project and, if any red flags are discovered, raise the issue at a pre-construction meeting.

What role, if any, does insurance play in this?   

The majority of homeowners’ policies include so-called “earth movement” exclusions, meaning the insurer will not cover those damages it determines were caused by this phenomenon.

Indeed, while many insurers will attempt to place ground vibration-related damage in this uninsurable category, courts have long held that the exclusions for earth movement apply only to naturally occurring events like earthquakes.

It’s worth noting that homeowners could always consider adding what is known as an endorsement for earth movement to their existing policy during the construction and for a short time thereafter. However, experts warn homeowners to read the fine print before signing anything.

We’ll continue to explore this topic further in future posts.

It’s important to understand that you do have options if your insurance company is delaying or denying a claim for ground vibration damages.