The giant boulder that tumbled down from the Rims in 2019 and shattered the home of Bill and Marci Mercer left a trail of destruction that now includes a hefty lawsuit.
The Mercers are suing their insurance company, Chubb Group, and Pacific Indemnity Company, the underwriter of the insurance policy. They've also named the City of Billings in the lawsuit as one of the landowners from which the boulder fell, and Shanna Henry, who owns the property directly above the Rims.
It's not the first time the city has been sued by homeowners after a chunk of the Rims fell and destroyed a house.
In 2011, Jane Waggoner Deschner and Jon Lodge, whose Granite Avenue home was wrecked and pushed partly off its foundations by a falling boulder, sued the City of Billings and state highway department, arguing the rock fall was the result of water from a culvert under U.S. Highway 3. A jury ruled against the homeowners.
Two rock slides occurred in 2018, with a boulder dislodging from the Rims and crashing into a home on 37th Street West and another incident where a rock smashed a homeowner’s garage on Mountain View Boulevard.
In their lawsuit, the Mercers argue the city was negligent in its maintenance of the cliff wall, leading to the fall of the boulder.
"Satellite photos show that before it finally fell, the portion of the cliff face that destroyed the Mercers' home was precariously situated," the lawsuit states. "But neither Henry nor the city took steps to stabilize the rock. Neither Henry nor the city warned the Mercers of the danger their property posed to the Mercers and their property."
The Mercers accuse their insurance company of violating the Montana Unfair Trade Practices Act, arguing that Chubb misrepresented "pertinent facts and insurance policy provisions," and that Chubb refused to pay the Mercers' claim.
Mercers purchased a policy known as "Deluxe House Coverage" from Chubb in 2001, which includes coverage for "all risk of physical loss." However, the coverage's exclusionary policy states that Chubb wouldn't cover loss caused by "earth movement," which includes landslides.
The company denied the Mercers' claim on those grounds.
In the suit, the Mercers say they not only lost their home, but "decades of family memorabilia." They also had to pay the cost of cleanup of the rockfall, including removing the rocks and leveling the property.
"The Mercers have been forced to rent an apartment in Billings because they no longer have a home there to occupy," the suit states.
The Mercers don't state a dollar amount in their lawsuit, instead stating that they're seeking the full value of their insurance coverage; compensatory damages for the violation of the Unfair Trade Practices Act; and compensatory damages caused by the negligence of all parties involved.
The Mercers also are seeking punitive damages that will "properly punish ... Pacific and Chubb for their unlawful conduct and serve as an example and deterrent to other insurance companies doing business in Montana."
Finally, they're seeking damages from the city and Henry for "negligent trespass, intentional trespass and nuisance." The Mercers have argued that the city and Henry bear blame for allowing the rock to fall from Rims and crash on their property.
Bill Mercer is a Montana legislator and former U.S. Attorney who has worked in Washington D.C. for both the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury.