Will My Homeowners' Insurance Cover a Mudslide?

The mix of mud and water is surprisingly important in determining whether damage from its entry to your home will be covered.

Question

I live near a hillside, and have read horrible press accounts of homeowners in various states being inundated—in some cases, literally buried—by mud. Recent heavy rains have me wondering: Would my homeowners’ policy cover damage if the hillside came down on my house? I tried to read my policy, but was left confused.

Answer

It’s easy to be confused by homeowners’ policies on the matter of mudslides. The short answer to your question is that whether you are covered would likely depend on how much water was mixed with the mud, as well as whether you have purchased flood insurance.

Damage caused by mudslides or mudflows are not covered by the standard homeowners’ insurance policy. With a careful reading of your policy, you’re likely to find them in the “exclusions” section.

But this raises more fundamental questions, which could make all the difference in whether you’re covered: What’s a mudslide and what’s a mudflow?

“Mudslide” is typically defined as a type of earth movement on a hillside that resulted from frequent or heavy rainfall. Major mudslides have been known to bury entire houses. The insurance industry has apparently decided the risk of covering these events is too big to take on, and excludes mudslides along with other earth movement.

What, then, is a “mudflow?” This is defined as a sort of a river of dirt-carrying water, traveling over normally dry areas of land. It also, to meet the definition, needs to not be carrying along a lot of trees, rocks, and garbage or other objects. (A favorite industry term for this is “chocolate shake, not chocolate cake.”)

While mudflows are also excluded from the standard policy, their definition brings them within the type of damage that might be separately covered under a flood insurance policy. You might not have such coverage: Homeowners must buy it in addition to their regular insurance. The main purveyor is the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), though some private companies also offer flood insurance. Find out more from the NFIP website.

With some searching, you might also be able to find add-ons to your existing coverage in the form of an “earth movement” policy or a “difference in conditions” policy, the latter of which specifically covers floods, earthquakes, and landslides. Unfortunately, the very people who need such insurance most, because they live below a hill in an area prone to slides, are often the ones who have the most trouble actually obtaining it.

Speak to your local state insurance board and your homeowners’ insurance agent for more information and an explanation of what your homeowners’ policy already does or does not cover.

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