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Defending a design to clients after it suffers landslide damages

Coastal, hillside and mountainside properties are often among the most coveted and expensive real estate available in California given that they offer both privacy and incredible views. Unfortunately, those pristine views and expensive locations carry a host of risks for homeowners.

The potential absolutely exists for an offshore storm to produce large waves or unusually high tides that can damage an oceanfront structure. Seismic activity and large storms can also cause landslides or mudslides that affect both coastal and hillside or mountainside properties.

Homeowners faced with damage to their home or the outright destruction of a custom-built house may want to hold a designer accountable for the loss they suffer after a landslide. The right steps during the design process can protect design professionals from such claims.

Can you show that you factored landslides into the design process?

Predicting the scope, scale and impact of a landslide is frankly impossible. Although you may have done your best to engage in design best practices for landslide mitigation, it is still possible for a property constructed with careful consideration of potential landslide conditions to wind up damaged if a landslide actually occurs.

The longer it has been since the original construction of the property, the more likely it is that changes to local topography will impact how successful your design efforts are at mitigating the destruction caused by a landslide.

Did the clients insist on specific placement or features that reduced safety?

All too often, clients ignore or brush off warnings about the risk involved with certain choices during the design and building process. You may have repeatedly warned them that the specific location they chose for the placement of their home is more vulnerable than you’d like due to the risk of landslide. Documenting such conversations will help you demonstrate that the client knew about the risk involved with their location or design choices.

It’s also possible that you suggested certain safety adjustments to the design, only to have your client reject them because of the aesthetic impact of those safety features. If you can demonstrate that you made an effort to alter the plan to reduce the risk of landslide impact, only to have the client reject your suggestions or demand other terms, this can remove much of your liability for the consequences of a landslide that damaged a custom-built home that you designed.