Tag Archives: sinkhole damage blog

How Rainfall Can Effect Sinkholes

Are there particular seasons where sinkhole activity is most likely to occur?

Sinkhole activity is less of an event and more of a process.  Because the majority of confirmed sinkholes are found due to the slow, gradual settlement of rock, they are likely to have occurred months, and sometimes years before they are ever reported.

Because the energy behind sinkholes is water, the rise and fall of the water table often causes additional activity.  As the water washes over limestone, it increases the dissolution of the rock and continues to move soil away from the location.  By so doing, the limestone is more likely to sink or move.  During seasonal changes, the action of water then causes more settlement.

During seasonal changes, it is always wise to do an external checkup of your home, to determine it’s overall condition.  Using a video camera, you can note the condition of the home so that you can compare it to any damage that may appear later in the summer.

Water is skinny

Depending on the kind of paint currently found on the outside of your home, you always want to consider whether your home is in need of a new paint job.  If you do see any surface cracks, it is important to learn why they may be there and to seal them.  This way, as the seasonal rains come in Florida, you can rest assured that no water gets behind your stucco.  As one structural engineer once told me, ‘water is very skinny’, and get can into just about any cracks or crevice.

Later in the year, when the rains stop, take another look at the exterior, to make sure you do not have any problems.  That way, if there are any issues, you have made at least some record of them.  Florida weather is hard on buildings, many of which may not have been constructed in a manner able to handle our harsh conditions.  Between sinkholes and hurricanes, it is wise to use the changing seasons as a marker regarding the condition of your most valuable investment.

Is Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse Coverage Enough?

What is catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage?

When it comes to sinkhole coverage from your insurance policy, you may be tempted to elect for catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage, as opposed to general sinkhole coverage (which tacks more money onto your premium). The difference between the two is simple: with catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage, you will only be covered by insurance if your home is left unhabitable by a sinkhole opening below your home.

Why this matters to you

While this may not matter to the uneducated homeowner, those who want to protect their home need to be aware. Sometimes, before a sinkhole opens and swallows your home and your family (sometimes literally), your home may express physical symptoms of the ground shifting underneath it.

For example, you may find cracks in the foundation of your home, the walls may be separating from the ceiling, rainwater isn’t draining well from your yard, or a variety of other signs may present themselves. While these symptoms qualify as major damage to your home and are obvious signs of a sinkhole, you will not be covered by your insurance if you do not have the correct coverage; if the ground has not collapsed underneath your home, your catastrophic coverage will not help you repair the foundation of your home affected by a sinkhole!

So catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage will cover an open sinkhole?

Not necessarily. Not all open sinkholes qualify as a catastrophic situation – that’s not the definition, so don’t be caught unawares! Catastrophic means that the house is not able to be lived in safely. So, for example, if a large sinkhole opens in your yard, swallowing your car and driveway, your insurance may not cover your repairs. Your insurance company may very well see that the vast majority of your home is safely on the ground and wave you off.

Therefore, I cannot reiterate enough the importance of having general sinkhole coverage. This can result in a dangerous situation for you and your family, plus put you hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for necessary repairs.

Stay on top of your payments

Even if you do opt for general sinkhole coverage, be wary that if you fail to pay your premium on time, your insurance company may revoke your general sinkhole coverage and only provide catastrophic coverage.

Sinkhole Testing On Condos and Apartment Buildings

Sinkhole testing for larger buildings

Question: I am on a condo Board of Directors for our condo, where we had a sinkhole investigation completed. In reviewing the report from the engineering company, it seems to me that they only studied one side of the building.

Are there special rules for larger, multi-unit buildings like apartments or condominiums when it comes to sinkhole investigations?

Sinkhole testing changes depending on building size

Sinkhole investigations very much relate to the size and complexity of the buildings. The larger the building or lot, the more sinkhole testing is required. If you have a condominium complex where a sinkhole investigation is being completed, the investigation should relate in some way to the size of the building.

Ordinarily, most engineering firms will conduct 3 standard penetration tests on a standard home site. Using this as a baseline, while not an exact comparison, I would expect a larger condo property to have considerably more borings on the property.

How many borings should you expect?

We find that some sinkhole engineering firms will do only a limited number of borings, even if the property itself is larger. If a condo or apartment building is 3 times the size of an average lot, you would expect 3 times as many borings.

However, engineering firms may be limited to the amount of testing due to budgetary restrictions. When we get questions about these issues, we will usually ask an independent engineering firm to review the report, not always to challenge the conclusions, but simply to assure that the investigation meets the minimum requirements for larger properties.

Ultimately, if you believe the testing failed to meet your expectations, either as a condo association owner or a member of a board of directors, your feelings are probably warranted. It is important as a member of a board that you act in the best interests of your members, and consider a second opinion to resolve your concerns.

My Insurance Company Claims I Lied On My Application About Sinkholes

Insurance company claims I lied

Question: My insurance company completed an investigation, and reported to me that I have sinkhole activity at my home.  However, they claim they are not going to pay my claim because I “lied” on my application by not telling them that I knew there was a sinkhole (repaired) next door.

I did not know this until after we closed on the house and paid the premium.  Can they do this?

Your insurance company’s stance

Essentially, the insurance company is taking a position that they want to cancel or “rescind” your policy because you failed to provide information that you either knew they wanted or should have known to disclose.

Honestly, in my experience, these defenses are about as thin as they come.  Not a defense I would make when I represented insurance companies.  Here are the issues you are dealing with when an insurance claim asserts what is commonly referred to as an “MMR” defense to your claim, which stands for “material misrepresentation” on the application.

Why?  Because most insurance applications ask you to provide very specific information, such as “are you aware of any sinkhole activity on an adjacent property?”  If you checked “no,” and that was the truth, they have no defense and should pay your claim.

Your next steps

Most of the time, when an insurance company tries to deny a claim such as this, they do this to you after you make the claim with their lawyers in tow.  In essence, the insurance company got your claim, and then, after taking your premiums for as long as they have, decided to really look to see if they wanted to pay you.

Ask them to see your application, as most people have not actually retained a copy of their insurance application.  Engage your insurance agent in the process, by asking for his/her help.

Oftentimes, insurance agents are involved in the application process and can look to clear up these issues.  However, I can tell you that I am currently representing several homeowners who are in your shoes so it may be necessary to retain a sinkhole attorney.

When a Sinkhole Keeps Growing

Daisetta’s sinkhole

In Daisetta, Texas in 2008, a massive sinkhole opened and continued to expand until it reached 600 feet, almost the size of two football fields.

This is an example of an active sinkhole that can be seen using water and pressure to grow in size.  Many times, once these sinkholes stop growing, developers will literally fill them in and build on top of them. This is true of Lynn and Debra Fregia, who built their home a year and a half after the sinkhole opened.

When we get involved later, we find stories of about the history of the property or even find aerial photos taken prior to the construction.  These then show how the homes were built right on top of these geological conditions.

How to stay safe from rural sinkholes

When purchasing a home in remote areas, you should do your homework as a homeowner.  Go to the building department and pull the file regarding all permits and history of the property.  These materials are public record.

It’s incredibly important that you know this, and understand how it may affect your insurance policy. More often than not, land that has given way to a sinkhole in the past will continue to do so in the future. If this occurs and you don’t have appropriate sinkhole insurance, you’ll likely find yourself in a tough spot.

Again, we never tell people what to do, only suggest that our clients and readers educate themselves on the homes they are purchasing or have already purchased in order to make informed decisions. We also advise that you’re very clear in what is covered in your insurance policy.

Caught in the Middle between Insurance and Construction Companies

Can you file a claim against a construction company?

Question: We purchased our home from a construction company approximately 4 years ago and started experiencing minor cracking in various places around the home.  When we spoke with our construction company, they told us they only warrantied the damage if it was “structural,” and then only if the damage was severe.

My insurance company suggested I sue the construction company.  What role does my insurance company play in this?

What you should expect

You are entitled to request your insurance company conduct an investigation.  Rather than simply talking to your insurance company, I would suggest you write to them and ask for a sinkhole investigation.

It is common for insureds to get caught between insurance companies and construction companies in these situations.  We frequently see homeowners who battle with the contractors for years (with no success), only to find out the home had actually been built on a sinkhole-prone area.

While this may seem unfair, it is not.  The insurance company can actually sue the construction company in a claim associated with recovering any payments made to you.  This is referred to as “subrogation,” and is a part of the insurance process.

What your insurance company will do

The easiest way to look at this is that you purchased insurance for the new home from your insurance company, and now it is damaged.

The insurance company should investigate and then make a decision about how to proceed with the contractor.  If enough insurance companies pay these claims, they can use their lobby to force tougher building standards, which benefits everyone (tongue in cheek, but you get the idea).

Sometimes the insurance company will deny the claim on defective construction or latent defects, but you may still have coverage under sinkhole when such defects are present.