by Amy Bach


Biblical quotes dominate the online comment threads about the horrific mudslides in Montecito, California...people trying to understand how such a lovely community can be suffering so much devastation - first wildfires, now this...

Landslides and mudflow often follow wildfires.  The tree and plant roots that held the soil in place are gone, so post-wildfire rains can be particularly damaging in hilly/mountainous areas.  We hope that most or even some of the impacted homes were insured for flood damage, which covers mudflow in some scenarios.  

Property owners impacted by mudflow or mudslides have a hard time collecting insurance benefits under a standard home insurance policy due to standard exclusions for earth movement and flood damage, although some case law suggests that flood following a wildfire may be covered as an ensuing loss.  Those with flood insurance will have a stronger base for collecting benefits, but not a sure shot.  The specific nature of the damage, the exact wording in their policies, and the degree to which their insurer honors their reasonable expectations of coverage will be the determining factors in whether or not insurance benefits will be paid for repairs/restoration of their assets.  UP will be supporting the impacted property owners in seeking coverage.

Each insurer writes (or doesn't write) their own definitions into their policies.  Commonly understood definitions factor in when there's a dispute between a policyholder and an insurer.  FEMA defines "mudflow" as:

  • Mudflow. A river of liquid and flowing mud on the surfaces of normally dry land areas, as when earth is carried by a current of water. Other earth movements, such as landslide, slope failure or a saturated soil mass moving by liquidity down a slope, are not mudflows.

Flood coverage can be purchased through the hybrid government/private National Flood Insurance Program or a company that sells either "stand alone" flood coverage or includes it in their home insurance policies.  Our publication "The 'dirt' on insurance protection for mud flow damage" lays out the basics.

If you live in a region where there have been wildfires in recent years, get a quote for adding flood protection to your property insurance and buy it if you can afford it.

See also:

Pluses and minuses of flood insurance

Flood insurance buying tips

Insurance tips for storm damage

About The Blogger

Amy Bach

Amy Bach has been a professional advocate for insurance policyholders since 1984 and an attorney since 1989. She co-founded United Policyholders in 1991 and serves as the organization's Executive Director and primary spokesperson; shaping and overseeing the Roadmap to Recovery™, Roadmap to Preparedness, and Advocacy and Action programs. She is a nationally recognized expert on insurance claim and legal matters; frequently interviewed in print and broadcast media, and the author of numerous publications including "The Disaster Recovery Handbook", "WISE UP: The Savvy Consumer's Guide to Buying Insurance" and consumer tips and guides in the UP Claim Help Library.  Recognized by Money Magazine as a Money Hero, Bach is in her eighth consecutive term as an official consumer representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and is a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance.