Godzilla has a bad habit of walking through cities, shooting atomic breath through buildings and causing massive structural damage with each step.

Who pays for clean-up after the King of Monsters stomps through town? And in the new Godzilla movie, who picks up the tab for damage (or extreme urban renewal) to Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco for the rampaging Kaiju?

Ironically, each city likely will have to endure the costs for emergency services, police, and other governmental services performed in response to Godzilla and other MUTO.

Business owners in Honolulu might also be unable to recover from damage caused by Godzilla’s tsunami when he came ashore if their insurance policies excluded water damage from flooding. See, Gaffney v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27805, 1-2 (E.D. La. Apr. 7, 2008). However, if he stepped on a house, that likely is not a policy exclusion, thus recoverable.

How Did They Clean Up in 1906?

San Francisco took the most significant damage it has endured since the 1906 earthquake in Godzilla. There are no California disaster cases directly on point, but states such as New York and Ohio follow the general rule “that public expenditures made in the performance of governmental functions are not recoverable.” County of Erie v. Colgan Air, Inc., 711 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 2013). As such, counties have been unable to recover costs responding to, and cleaning up, plane crashes or damages from a blackout. These costs could include wages, overtime, fire, sanitation, and hospital personnel who performed services in response to the emergency. Id.


The rules change with events such as oil spills. In the event of an oil spill, many states allow the state to recover clean-up costs. State of New York v Getty Petroleum Corp., 89 A.D.3d 262, 264-265 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dep’t 2011).

Nuclear accidents have their own special set of rules to limit liability of a licensed nuclear power company. The 1957 Price-Anderson Act was designed to encourage the development of nuclear power and protect the public. As such, the original law limited the aggregate liability for a single nuclear incident to $ 500 million plus the amount of liability insurance  available on the private market  ($ 60 million in 1957). Nuclear power companies had to buy maximum available amount of privately underwritten public liability insurance. In the (highly likely) event a nuclear disaster exceed the amount covered by private insurance, the Federal Government would kick in an amount not to exceed $500 million. Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Group, 438 U.S. 59, 64-65 (1978).


Navigating Nuclear Liability

In the new Godzilla movie, a nuclear weapon is detonated off the coast of California. In all likelihood, given the speed of the boat (which could have been 20 knots if a pilot boat), a nuclear weapon in the megatons, and less than 5 minutes to cruise to a distance outside of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco should have sustained massive damage from the shock wave alone of the weapon at only a couple of nautical miles from the Golden Gate at best. Let’s not forget about the following radioactive tsunami.

While I am a lawyer and sailor, but not a weapons expert, I’d say it was a miracle of science fiction San Francisco was not flattened, given the amount of time the vessel could travel before the bomb detonated. Perhaps an actual nuclear weapons expert could determine how much radiation had to be absorbed by the MUTO nest to reduce the explosion to a survivable detonation. Additionally, how much fallout Godzilla had to absorb, so San Francisco would not have to be abandoned like Chernobyl.

Would there be any governmental liability for the detonation of the nuclear weapon? Most likely no, based on cases barring property owners from recovering damages against the Federal government for testing nuclear weapons. See, Bartholomae Corp. v. United States, 253 F.2d 716, 718 (9th Cir. Cal. 1957).

In the story, the weapon was going to be used as bait to get the monsters away from San Francisco, then detonated. After the mission fails, the military options are to either let the bomb go off in San Francisco, defuse the bomb, or get it out to sea.

No lawyer could argue letting the bomb go off in San Francisco would be a good thing. The City was a mess, but a nuclear explosion would only make it a bigger mess. Defusing the bomb turned into a physical impossibility, thus getting it away from the City was the only option.

From Russia With Love

The Russian nuclear submarine dropped off on Hawaii creates a small international problem. Warships are property of their countries, even if they were lost at sea. As such, you have a Russian nuclear warship sitting on Hawaii. The Russians would want her back for burying their lost sailors and ensuring the US did not study the ship.

The Federal government would get stuck with the bill in cleaning up a nuclear mess on Hawaii. Hopefully, the area is not too hot with radiation, thanks to the MUTO’s feeding on the reactor and weapons. Whether or not the Russians would chip in for clean up costs for the return of the vessel, or consider it a loss, or throw in a few rides to the International Space Station for free, is unknown.

History Shows Again & Again, How Nature Points Out the Folly of Men

Godzilla, King of the Monster, is a force of nature who can knock over a building. However, the City of San Francisco responding to damages caused Acts of God(zilla) would have to cover the costs themselves as the “general rule is that public expenditures made in the performance of governmental functions are not recoverable.” The good news housing should be affordable in San Francisco after reconstruction and decontamination. Bad news is everyone would have long-term heath problems.

Congress would have to pass a Godzilla-sized MUTO relief act, as it would be political suicide to not help San Francisco, Las Vegas and Honolulu rebuild. Interestingly, there likely would be a mass exodus out of San Francisco, given the level of destruction. Depending on whether or not where former San Francisco survivors moved to, this could change the political make-up of California after one election.


On the bright side, the West Coast should have help in rebuilding the fishing industry, due to the tsunami Godzilla creates when he swims. The resulting damage to coastal fisheries would meet the definition of a Catastrophic Regional Fishery Disaster, because there is 1) economic losses to the fishing communities; 2) more than 1 state is affected; and 3) should qualify as a fishery resource disaster or section 308(d) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act of 1986 (16 U.S.C. 4107(d)).”  See, MAGNUSON-STEVENS FISHERY CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2006, 109 P.L. 479, 121 Stat. 3575, 3602.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.