Citation. 171 W. Va. 185, 298 S.E.2d 218, 1982 W. Va.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A couple discovered their house was slipping down a hill and believed the slipping was caused by an adjacent landowner’s deteriorated retaining wall.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A landowner is entitled to receive lateral support, which is support from adjoining soil, of his land in its natural state.
The plaintiffs purchased a house, and after a few years, they discovered their house was slipping down a hill. The defendant lived below the plaintiffs at the foot of the hill. The defendant’s property included a retaining wall along the side of the hill, but the wall had fallen into disrepair. The plaintiffs allege the wall was constructed to provide lateral support for their house, and that the disrepair damaged their property. The defendant denies that the condition of her wall caused the damage, and argues that the plaintiffs should have protected their own property.
Does an adjoining landowner have liability when his lateral support of land is sufficient to hold his neighbor’s land in its natural state, but insufficient to support the additional weight of a building?
If, as a result of the additional weight of a building, so much extra strain is placed upon existing or artificial lateral support that the support will no longer hold, then in the absence of negligence, the adjoining landowner will not have liability.
Here, if the weight of the plaintiff’s house placed so much pressure on the soil that the house itself caused the subsidence, and the land would not have subsided without the weight of the house, then the plaintiffs cannot recover.
At the time the retaining wall was built, no buildings were on plaintiffs’ property. The wall merely needed to support plaintiffs’ land in its natural condition. The only obligation of the defendant was to maintain the wall to support the plaintiffs’ land in its natural condition.
In order to recover, the plaintiffs must prove that the disrepair of the retaining wall would have led to the subsidence of their land in its natural condition.
The absolute right to lateral support of land exists only as to land in its natural state. If a landowner constructs a building, and the soil begins to subside because of the adjacent owner’s acts and the weight of the building, the landowner will not have a claim against the adjacent owner, assuming the adjacent owner is not negligent.