Sinkholes and Your Home

Over the last few years, there seems to have been an increase in sinkhole activity in Florida. This has had much impact on the properties affected, as Florida property insurance attorneys know. And now the nation’s attention has been turned to the issue because of the tragic sinkhole that took Floridian Jeff Bush’s life a few weeks ago, when a sinkhole swallowed him while he was in his bedroom in his home, preparing to retire to bed for the night.

A Florida sinkhole expert, Bill Fernandez, explained, “When they take water out of the ground it’s like taking air out of a balloon. When you suck water out of the ground, you change the hydrostatic pressure underground and that’s what can cause sinkholes.” Another geologist noted that moving dirt for the construction of new buildings can also increase the chances for a sinkhole. For those thinking of buying a home in Florida, they should be aware of these dangers and do what they can to have the property inspected, including engineering surveys and ground soil tests, before buying. 320px-Sinkhole.jpg

There are three types of sinkholes: collapse, which are usually triggered by underground water; subsidence, which are slower in forming; and clay shrinkage, which occur seasonally with changes in precipitation. All three were looked at in a 2010 report by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The report showed a large increase in reported sinkhole losses between 2006 and 2009. The most common of the types of sinkhole claims were subsidence, averaging $104,094. Overall sinkhole costs increased from $209 million in 2006 to $406 million by 2009. The report noted, “Not only are the number of claims on the rise, so is the total loss and expenses.”

Florida law does require that homeowner’s insurance cover sinkholes, because the damage and destruction is so common in the state. In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed SB 408, which reformed property insurance, shortening the timeframe for homeowners to make a sinkhole claim. This law also outlined the investigation procedures for sinkhole claims and limited the structures that could be covered under such claims. The law also allows insurance companies to require a property inspection before covering sinkhole losses.

Florida property insurance can be very complicated by these natural occurrences, and is often a significant expense in owning a home in our state; therefore, keeping up-to-date and knowledgeable about your policy is vitally important. If you are having problems with your insurance company giving you the run around, contact a local insurance attorney to learn about your options as soon as possible. Under Florida law, if you proceed with a case and you succeed, the attorney’s fees will automatically be the responsibility of the insurance company. No matter how big or small your claim, if you win your case, you get to keep the entire award and the insurance company will pay all of your lawyer’s fees.

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[Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]