What Florida Residents Need to Know About Sinkhole Activity

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

The notion of the ground opening up and swallowing your home used to be the stuff of bad movies, but the increased level of sinkhole activity in Florida in recent years has made this a risk homeowners need to consider.  A massive sinkhole just opened up and threatens a number of Tampa area homes according to a Tampa Bay Times report.  The massive crater is thirty feet wide and forty feet deep.  The sinkhole swallowed the front lawn of one homeowner and now threatens multiple Tampa residences.  This current sinkhole comes approximately a year after another sinkhole in Tampa engulfed a man as he slept in his bedroom

Sinkhole Activity Not Covered by Florida Standard Homeowner’s Policies

Our state has more sinkholes than any other state in the U.S.  While a recent change in Florida law requires an insurer to cover “catastrophic ground cover collapse”, this legislation provides no relief to homeowners whose residences are damaged by a sinkhole.  Sinkholes are not necessarily included within the definition of catastrophic ground loss.  The definition of each under Florida law is provided below:

Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse: “Geological activity that results in the following: (1) The abrupt collapse of the ground cover; (2) A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye; (3) Structural damage to the building including the foundation; and (4) The insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the government agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.”

Sinkhole: “A land form created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater.  A sinkhole may form by collapse into subterranean voids created by dissolution of limestone or dolostone or by the subsidence as these strata are dissolved.”

When these two definitions are taken together, the result is that a sinkhole does not qualify as catastrophic ground cover collapse unless it meets all four of the statutory requirements.  When the foundation of a home develops cracks, for example, the sinkhole will not qualify for coverage under a standard homeowner’s policy if the home is still livable.

Florida insurance companies all offer sinkhole coverage as a rider or addendum, but there will be an additional cost for such coverage.  However, the insurance company can and typically will inspect the property before providing sinkhole coverage.  If sinkhole activity is already present on the premises or the immediate vicinity, the insurer might deny such coverage.

How Homeowner’s Can Obtain Financial Protection for Sinkhole Activity

Although sinkhole coverage is not standard, the State of Florida suggests a number of steps that homeowners in Florida can take to protect their investment in a family residence:

  • When you obtain financing to purchase a home, your lender will require an inspection.  Home buyers should ask whether sinkhole activity is included in the inspection process.
  • Ensure that your home can be insured.
  • Hire an inspector who can investigate and indicate whether your property is affected by sinkhole activity.
  • Consider the possibility of conducting sinkhole testing.
  • Ask your insurance agent about adding sinkhole coverage.

If your insurance company is denying your claim for sinkhole activity or other soil or foundation issues, we may be able to help.  My law firm has proven results and has represented policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations.  No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees.  Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.

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