Most people are somewhat familiar with the legal concept of condemnation.
In a condemnation, the government sues a private landowner to take a piece of property for public use. The U.S. Constitution allows the government this right of eminent domain, provided the owner is given “just compensation.”
But what if the government seizes a piece of property without suing to invoke eminent domain? What if the government does something that deprives the landowner of the use or enjoyment of their property but doesn’t compensate them?
In that case, instead of the government suing the landowner (as in a condemnation), the landowner may sue the government. It’s called an “inverse condemnation.”
Made whole by inverse condemnation
Frequently, an inverse condemnation suit is filed when the owner is deprived of an essential element of their private property rights, having the effect of the government taking owner’s land, whether intentionally or inadvertently.
Sometimes, the government doesn’t so much take the land as ruins it for whatever purpose it had been put to before.
For example, a large infrastructure project might wind up permanently diverting water onto the landowner’s property, essentially rendering it useless.
Alternately, a project might cause the removal of groundwater, leading to extensive damage below and above ground to structures, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment.
In these cases, the landowner has the option of filing for inverse condemnation to recover the value of property rather than try to restore the land to its previous state and value.