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What To Do Following a Retaining Wall Collapse

The site around a retaining wall collapse can be very dangerous, especially for children. It is crucial that these steps be taken immediately following a retaining wall collapse.

retaining wall collapse

First, have a robust safety fence installed about 6' back from the edge by a professional.

Next, locate your homeowner’s insurance policy and speak with a public adjuster or insurance adjuster to review whether it provides coverage for the loss, before attempting to file a claim. If your policy covers the retaining wall failure, your insurance company adjuster will want to investigate the cause of retaining wall failure. Preexisting retaining walls and those which were part of the original construction it always have the best chance of insurance coverage following a collapse; and you may skip to the last paragraph. However, if your retaining wall was built after the property was purchased, please read all of the following below.

failed cinder block retaining wall

Check the retaining wall building permit, it should include a copy of the engineering plan and most importantly the site inspection records. Determine whether the city or county inspector conducted site visits and stamped the permit as the project progressed. Also, verify the permit was officially closed by the city or county. The engineering firm should also have conducted site visits as part of a certification process. If you have a certification letter listing the address detailing the failed retaining wall, the engineering firm has liability.

catastrophic retaining wall failure

Unfortunately for unsuspecting property owners, retaining walls are frequently permitted incorrectly. Some contractors obtain an engineering plan strictly to secure a “show permit”. A show permit is an easy to get building permit contactors post out front where building material deliveries may otherwise attract unwanted attention from nosey neighbors whose joy in life is informing city or county inspectors someone is building something without a permit. The show permit will suffice crooked contractors needs in most cases; but, a closer look reveals the building permit actually describes a much shorter retaining wall, the city or county was sure to approve. Another contractor’s trick is to reduce the permit cost from thousands to hundreds of dollars by stating the wall costs less to build than it actually does.

It is important homeowners recognize that inaccurate permits, whether accidental or intentional, release your city or county as well as your insurance company from liability, in most cases. All will shrug culpability and gleefully inform the honest dupe, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s you, that it is ultimately your own responsibility to verify the scope of work on the building permit. And don’t forget to check the specs on the engineering plan for a retaining wall are all accurate and adequate for the intended application. Oh, it is also your responsibility to ensure site visits for the retaining wall are being performed sequentially at each stage of the process and receiving approval stamps by appropriate personnel all throughout the project. In other words, quit your career, attend an accredited engineering school and study all the city or county regulations pertaining to retaining walls. Or better yet, just build the damn thing yourself! You will be responsible anyway, right?

failed mod block retaining wall

The best advice for any property owner absent the requisite intelligence to avoid properties with retaining walls, or those considering building new retaining walls, is to hire a contractor who specializes in retaining wall construction. The retaining wall company should have at least fifteen years experience building similar projects with a proven reputation. Verify the retaining wall professional routinely works with a local licensed engineer authorized to certify projects in your city or county.