Nightingale, Liles, Dennard & Carmical

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Firm partners Thomas E. Dennard, Jr. and Lee A. Carmical continue the level of service and commitment to client care established by the firm's founders in 1940.

Water Damage -- When a Property Owner Is Liable to a Neighbor

Jared's property sat somewhat higher than that of his neighbor, Lisa. During a flash flood, the run-off from Jared's property caused extensive flooding on Lisa's property.

Evelyn dug a drainage ditch to carry water away from her house. It was Evelyn's hope that the ditch would remedy the problem of leaking in her basement. Shortly after Evelyn completed the drainage ditch, the area experienced exceptionally heavy storms. The drainage ditch served the purpose of diverting water away from the foundation of Evelyn's house, but resulted in flooding at the home of Evelyn's neighbor.

What liability, if any, do Jared and Evelyn face?

The issue of a property owner's liability for water damage is largely a matter of state law. However, a property owner is not liable for things he or she cannot control.

Generally speaking, a property owner is not liable for damage that results from the natural condition of the land. However, a property owner may be liable for damages that result from alterations to the land. While state law varies widely, the majority of states follow the rule that a property owner is not liable unless he or she acted in a manner that was unreasonable. The law of the relevant jurisdiction should be consulted for further details.

With regard to events known as "acts of God," such as floods, hurricanes and electrical storms, the same rule applies. In the event of an "act of God," no one may be liable and each individual property owner may be responsible for the damage to his or her property. Here again, the issue is governed by local law.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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