Residential construction was booming between the years of 2003 to 2008. However, few flat and stable areas were available to developers for the construction of new homes. Grading challenges including filling in canyons, cutting hills, stabilization of landslide or other unstable soils, as well as construction of residential projects on clays, have resulted in significant claims for damages caused by soils movement.
Throughout the State of California, there are numerous areas that contain highly expansive clays in the soil. These soils have the capability of absorbing water, thereby expanding the soil. The expansion of these clay materials can cause significant vertical displacement known as heave, even of residential homes. Our firm has seen homes move as much as 6 to 8 inches as a result. Additionally, if the clay soils are saturated and then allowed to dry out, considerable shrinkage or consolidation will result. We have seen significant damage to residential and commercial properties as a result of both heaving and settling caused by expansive clay.
The biggest problems with soil settlement have to do with the lack of compaction of soils caused by original construction. Uniform Building Code and industry standards require soils to be compacted at 90% relative compaction, however, we often see it as low as in the 70% range. When soils have not been properly compacted, rain and irrigation water can cause the soils to hydro-consolidate. The soil tightens up and results in settlement, causing damage to homes and improvements. Also, building on sands and other types of fill material can consolidate with the introduction of landscape water.
In California, there is limited flat land available for development. As a result, a large amount of construction is occurring on slopes and hills, which require the builders to flatten out the slopes for building pads by either cutting the tops of the slopes off or by importing soil to flatten out the slopes. Due to the high increase in number of residential and commercial projects built on fill material, there has been a spike in claims resulting from a lack of compaction and/or the movement of the slopes, often referred to as “slope creep.” Many engineers identify that some amount of slope creep is expected when projects are built on fill, or when homes are located near the top of the manufactured slope. However, when the movement caused by slope creep results in significant cracks, and other damage to improvements, a claim against the builder can be investigated.
To the surprise of most homeowners especially in Southern California, ancient landslides exist in virtually every community. Those landslides occurred thousands of years ago and remain dormant. However, due to grading activities of builders they are sometimes made unstable. Once man’s activity has caused the landslide to become unstable, the introduction of water through drains and irrigation can cause catastrophic failure. Our firm has been involved in litigating numerous landslides including in the cities of Pomona, Yorba Linda, Anaheim, Anaheim Hills, San Diego, Dana Point, and San Clemente. Resulting damages are the damages to improvements which result from inappropriate movement of soils or negligent construction. These would include such things as cracked improvements, cracked flat work, cracked stucco, leaky windows, leaky roofs, and movement of the property line walls or fences.