Mudflow? Mudslide? Landslide? For Insurers, There's a Difference

Wording could drive insurance claims

Is it a mudflow?

Is a mudslide?

Is it a landslide?

To most of us, these terms are interchangeable. However, for people whose homes have suffered damage as a result of the relentless rain that has soaked the Bay Area, the use of those words will drive whether their property insurance will pay claims.

The three are distinctly different.

FEMA said mudflows are “a river of liquid mud similar in consistency to a milkshake”; mudslides are described as “more solid and more closely resemble a cake”; and a landslide is “a rapid shift in land mass that is typically associated with periods of heavy rainfall.”

A person whose house was smashed by moving dirt or mud might not care whether its feel is “cakey” or “milkshakey.” But insurers do.

Adjusters will look to these terms to determine their obligation to pay claims. Some events, like mudslides, are said to be covered by no insurance policy, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Although it was not immediately clear Wednesday who determines whether an event is a mudflow, mudslide or landslide, whoever makes the determination wields the power to make insurance pay.

III webpage: What’s Covered?

The Insurance Information Institute said homeowner’s insurance typically excludes coverage for mudflows, mudslides and landslides. But other policies, such as an optional federal flood policy or a private “difference in conditions” policy might cover damage, the III said.    

Here’s a list of definitions and coverage levels that we built from conversations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Insurance Information Institute.

MUDFLOW is a river of liquid mud similar in consistency to a milkshake.

Coverage: Excluded from homeowner’s insurance; included with flood insurance

MUDSLIDES are more solid and more closely resemble a cake.

Coverage: “Mudslides are not covered by any policy,“ III said.

LANDSLIDE is a rapid shift in land mass that is typically associated with periods of heavy rainfall.

Coverage: Excluded from homeowner’s insurance. Might be covered under 'Difference in Conditions' policy

Even if an event like a mudflow is covered, few are actually insured for it.

Last month, FEMA shared data that showed just 290,000 of the nearly 7 million homes in California have flood insurance coveage through the National Flood Insurance Program. In high-risk areas, just 30 percent of homeowners have NFIP policies. FEMA was quick to flip the numbers and note that 70 percent are uninsured for floods and mudflows.

Emergency federal aid might become avaiable. However, there are no guarantees.

If you are concerned whether your home is protected from mudflow, mudslide, or landslide damage, we encourage you to contact an insurance agent.

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