Attorney Ted Corless is on the scene investigating the latest large sinkhole incident in the State of Florida. A large sinkhole opened on the morning of July 14 and it has already swallowed two homes. Authorities are scrambling to keep people safe from the massive, fast-growing sinkhole. Corless learned repairs were done on the sinkhole before this incident with grout, which is a less effective way to treat sinkhole activity in an effort to save money. The sinkhole was estimated to be 200 to 250 feet wide and 50 feet deep and appeared to be moving toward a nearby lake. For a free consultation regarding your sinkhole claim, call 813-258-4998 or 877-517-5595.
My neighbor has a confirmed sinkhole, but there does not appear to be any damage to my home. They are in the process of repairing the sinkhole, and I am interested in finding sinkhole information if the damage appears at my home.
The existence of and repair to an adjacent home for sinkhole damage is one of the more the dimensional issues when it comes to sinkhole claims. This is because there are two issues in this question, one of which relates to your own sinkhole insurance policy, and the other, which arise from your neighbor’s sinkhole insurance policy.
My Neighbor’s Sinkhole Can Pay for My Sinkhole Repairs?
If your neighbor has a confirmed sinkhole, and is in the process of repairing it, they can be held responsible for any damage to your house caused by the repairs. While not common, a shallow lot line can present a threat to an adjacent property when repairs are being completed nearby.
This is because the depth of injection for repairs takes the grout deep enough that it can travel to adjacent properties, causing lift and impacting the overall geology of the area. If this occurs as a result of the neighbor’s actions, there is legal authority to hold them and their insurance company liable. This is referred to a third-party suit.
When Did the Sinkhole Damage Appear?
If, however, you are experiencing sinkhole activity of your own, clearly your neighbor is not responsible.
You would need to look at your own sinkhole insurance policy to determine whether you have coverage. The pivotal issue would be to consider when the damage appeared at your house. If the damage appeared at the time of the repairs to the adjacent home, you would probably need to consider them as the source of the damage. But, if the damage at your home was there prior to the repairs, it is probably the same or similar damage beneath your home causing the issues.
Read our tips on filling out a sinkhole claim.
Have a burning question you’d like to ask about sinkholes? Let us know.
Heavy rains = sinkholes
Water has been called the fuel that drives sinkhole activity. In fact, in the definition of sinkhole activity provided under Florida Statutes, the term “sinkhole” is the action of water on limestone or other similar rock formation.
Water is not, in most situations, a neutral actor, as it usually acidic or basic, and can act to dissolve rock over time. Therefore, sinkholes can form when we receive heavy, consistent rainstorms.
Why does heavy rain cause sinkholes to form?
Water percolating through soil completely alters the characteristics of the soil. Although some soil material is compacted, the addition of water acts to “reorient” or change the density of the material. This usually happens only in the shallow soil, as the deeper material is still under the pressure of the soil above it. Due to the chemicals in rainfall and how they respond to the soil underground, the earth is weakened.
In a lot of ways, the soil is acting not as a solid material but as a dynamic material reacting to the climate changes. When those changes are dramatic during heavy summer rains, more changes are often observed in the homes.
Does heavy rain always mean sinkholes?
While one shouldn’t necessarily assume a sinkhole will open after heavy rains, it is safe to be aware of any sinkholes that open in surrounding areas. This is because the increase in water also acts to create more disputes regarding the causes of damage.
For example, when there is an increase in the water on soil material, the water can also trigger other, unrelated soil conditions. These include associations with active “shrink-swell clay,” which often masks sinkhole conditions at a property.
The increase in water also causes the loosening of sand, which can also mask conditions more likely to be the result of the sinkhole.
Suffice to say, if you’re in an area where sinkholes are common, or your neighbors are experiencing sinkholes after heavy rains, do not hesitate to contact your insurance company to provide an engineer, even if the physical effects of a sinkhole do not seem to present themselves.
How much testing does the insurance company have to do?
We have discussed before how the insurance expert’s opinion is presumed to be correct. Well, this is a similar scenario.
The law simply requires the insurance expert to perform whichever testing is sufficient in their professional opinion. This is again a very subjective definition which is a point of contention in many of these cases. You have to remember that it is the insurance company’s burden to rule out sinkhole activity at the property so, what does constitute sufficient testing necessary to rule sinkhole activity?
This is a harder question to answer because every home is different.
It’s incredibly important to not only have an independent geologist review the opinions brought forth by the insurance company’s engineers, but have your geologist weigh in on the actual testing methods as well. This matters for a few reasons:
1) Certain homes have accessibility issues that mean the trucks or equipment can not get to certain areas to test. This creates the potential of an inaccurate report which could mean that you do not get the coverage or repairs that you really need.
2) The depth of the limestone may determine how much or what type of testing is necessary. If your insurance company’s engineer does not consider this, you may not get an accurate report.
3) How many anomalies they find during GPR testing may determine how many borings they drop.
4) The size of the home and whether it is multi or single story may impact testing or a property may have other conditions such as clay or organic material that can influence the type of testing.
Don’t be afraid to be involved
Whatever happens, you’re the one who will be living in the home and will be footing the bill. If you have any concern that your insurance company’s engineer isn’t getting the right story, speak up. Contact a lawyer and/or your own engineer for a second opinion.