Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Earth Movement Definition:

Phenomena related to forces operating within the earth itself, and not to the merely superficial effects of external forces, such as erosion by run-off rainwater.

In Peach State Uniform Service, the issue before Justice Goldberg of the United States Court of Appeals was the meaning of the words earth movement. The Plaintiff had suffered damages when heavy rains had washed away some of the founbdation of the building in which they were commercial tenant. The insurance company refused to pay noting that the policy excluded damages caused by earth movement. Justice Goldberg was not inclined to agree with the insured:

"[W]e think the phrase other earth movement is ambiguous in its usage and application here and thus turn to the principle of ejusdem generis to facilitate construction of the exclusion.... There is no clear manifestation here of an intent not to limit the general term other earth movement in this policy to events of the same nature as earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides. Taking the phrase in its contractual context, then, and continuing to resolve ambiguity in favor of the insured, we read other earth movement as referring only to phenomena related to forces operating within the earth itself, and not to the merely superficial effects of external forces, such as erosion by run-off rainwater. There is no evidence on this record that Peach State's loss might have resulted from hydrostatic pressures or other forces working within the earth itself."

In the United States District Court (Pennsylvania), the case of Peters Township School District v Hartford came before Justice Dumbauld. An old, long-forgotten mine had given way under the school causing damages. The school sought to collect under its insurance policy; the insurer sought to avoid payment given that one of the exclusions was "earth movement, including but not limited to earthquake, landslide, mudflow, earth sinking, earth rising or shifting."

Again, the court sided with the insurer:

"It appears that the earth moving exclusion originated as a consequence of the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. It seems that originally the earthquake exclusion was expanded to include other catastrophic occurrences, such as the landslides in California that in recent years have destroyed many expensive residences near the ocean....

"Earth movement in the policy involved in the case at bar means spontaneous, natural, catastrophic earth movement; and not movements brought about by other causes, such as ... the excavation for a subway system....

"We construe the earth movement exclusion as embracing only natural causes, and not other operative causes such as excavation."

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