Tag Archives: Florida Sinkholes

Rise in Sinkhole Claims Tied To Real Estate Boom

Real estate boom & increased sinkhole claims

Across the board, our office and other property insurance lawyers are reporting a spike in claims and disputes associated with sinkhole property damage. These claims, while most common in the Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas areas, are now seeing a dramatic increase in volume in other counties as well.

Speaking with a senior level manager of an insurance company last week who handles sinkhole property damage claims in Ocala, I was told that many insurance companies are doubling, if not tripling, their staff to handle the increase in confirmed sinkhole property losses in areas such as Gainesville and Ocala. The greatest area of concern now for insurance companies appears to be homes built during the high development era of the past 15 years.

Spike in claims caused by insufficient testing

When the recent real estate boom was in its full throes, many developers were lax in conducting pre-construction testing before commencing construction. This lack of testing for sinkhole activity was witnessed recently by one of our Ocala clients who was affected by sinkhole property damage. His home was located in a high volume development built approximately nine years ago.

Our research into public records found that prior to building more than 70 homes, the real estate developer and contractor conducted less testing than would ordinarily be called for on a single home site. This was in spite of the fact the Ocala sinkhole was near a large, confirmed area known for shallow karst activity.

Homeowners: be in the know!

In areas such as Ocala or Gainesville, where sinkhole activity had not been an issue previously, homeowners should still avail themselves to public records searches to learn of any testing, sinkhole or otherwise, that may have been done prior to construction.

Additionally, homeowners should not remove sinkhole property damage coverage for other high-risk coverage provided for by some insurance companies seeking to limit their exposure to these serious losses.

How to Protect Yourself in a Sinkhole Property Damage Claim

I”?m getting a lot of runaround with my sinkhole claim. Who bears ultimate responsibility for the repair strategy for sinkhole damage, the insurance company or the engineering firm?

The issue of whether a sinkhole property should be fixed with “grout only” versus the use of underpinning, supplemental chemical grouting, or geotechnical based fix remains a major dispute between homeowners and their insurance company. Learn more about traditional cement grouting vs. chemical grouting options.

As a property insurance sinkhole lawyer, I find that most insurance companies try to focus the solution on the engineering firm they hire. When the issue of actually fixing the sinkhole property comes up, the insurance company is apt to place the responsibility of fixing a home with sinkhole damage on the engineering report provided, even when they may very well be aware of problems at the home that will be not resolved.

Challenge of Claims for Sinkhole Properties with Complicating Non-Sinkhole Issues

In Hernando and Pinellas counties, sinkholes are often discovered with other, serious subsurface problems such as clay, organic material, and poor consolidated soil. This becomes troublesome for a homeowner with a sinkhole or a suspected sinkhole because separating the actual cause of the damage when these conditions are present can be challenging.

When submitting a claim for a property damaged by a sinkhole “? especially when it”?s a property insurance claim in Hernando, Pinellas, Pasco, or Marion counties “? it is important to understand whether the engineering firm found other, non-sinkhole related conditions, which may not be resolved by a grout-only fix. Oftentimes, serving as sinkhole lawyers, we are able to get these other issues resolved, too, for limited or no cost to the homeowners.

If a sinkhole claim is denied because of these other conditions, it is often because a sinkhole condition is being masked but may still be there. For example, recently in a Hernando County sinkhole property claim, we were able to obtain a credible opinion of a local expert, who was able to convince the insurance company that while there were these other conditions, it was at least colorable to call the damage sinkhole related as well. In so doing, the claim was paid, and the client was protected.

Have a burning question you”?d like to ask about sinkholes? Let us know.