South African Insurance Association

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Removal of Support Insurance in Construction Projects

A common misunderstanding is that the liability section of the Construction Risks policy would provide cover in the event that a Contractor/Builder causes damage to adjacent third party property, or injury to third parties, due to the removal of support from such property.

However, this is incorrect, as the Policy specifically excludes liability in such circumstances.

This is a specialist type of cover, and would be an extension to an underlying Construction Risks and Public Liability Policy.

What is Removal of Support?

Removal of Support, in simple terms, is “the act of weakening of, interference with, or removing support from third party property/buildings/structures.

This could take the form of the removal of either horizontal support, or vertical support. The former is better known as the Removal of Lateral Support, and is normally caused by excavating very close to an existing building, to a depth below the foundations. The ground below the foundations would no longer have the weight/pressure of the surrounding earth to keep it in place. As a result, the ground would not be able to withstand the downward loads on the foundations, and would be forced sideways, thus undermining the foundations, and causing them to subside. The movement of the foundations would cause differential settlement of the building, and structural cracks would appear in the concrete floors and walls (brickwork). In extreme cases, there may be a partial collapse of the building, and it may have to be vacated, and portions re-built.

To avoid the above situation, it would be necessary to provide ‘temporary lateral support’ to the building. This could take the form of a wall consisting of a row of concrete piles, tied back using ground anchors, with mesh and sprayed concrete between them to protect the exposed earth. The temporary support would have to be designed by an Engineer, in terms of the applicable design code.

If the excavation is reasonably shallow, the support could simply involve “under-pinning” the foundations of a house or building (extending the existing foundations down to the same depth as the proposed excavation.

The removal of vertical support would normally be caused by removing “load-bearing” columns or brick walls which provide vertical support to floors/concrete slabs, roofs, or other structures above them. This usually occurs when an existing building is being renovated or extended, and existing walls and columns are removed to provide more open space or access. Should these walls or columns be “load-bearing”, the removal could result in damage to the building, unless adequate temporary vertical support is installed during the construction project until the permanent support is completed. The temporary vertical support would normally take the form of adjustable props and steel beams.

Why is the cover required?

In terms of the law, there is a duty placed on the owner of land/property (or a developer), to provide lateral support to adjacent land or property. This is clear from decisions made in various court cases, from as early as the 1890s.
Basically, an aggrieved party can bring an action against the owner of a neighbouring property, when the latter removes or interferes with the lateral support of his land or building, causing damage or injury to arise.

It is important to note that a person can “lawfully” remove lateral support. However, the removal is converted into an “unlawful act”, as soon as it causes damage to the adjacent land and/or property. The Party responsible for this unlawful act would become “legally liable” for any resultant injury to third parties, or damage to third party property.

Since the legal duty is placed on the owner/developer, they would be responsible for taking out the cover.

For more information, contact:
David Waterworth, Technical Specialist Old Mutual Insure