Tag Archives: VA

In The News: Richmond Sinkhole Swallows Car

Sinkholes come in all shapes and sizes. While most sinkholes do not cause these kinds of sudden, catastrophic events, they can and result in devastating damage or injuries. This particular sinkhole in Richmond, Virginia was 60 feet wide, 40 feet long and 20 feet deep.

Do you have a sinkhole video you would like to share with us? Have a burning question you’d like to ask about sinkholes? Let us know.

What do Sinkhole Repair Contractors Do?

Sinkhole repair contractors

When you find sinkhole damage in your home and open up a claim with your homeowner’s insurance, you may feel overwhelmed. You may be faced with choices to make that you were not expecting about things you know nothing about. Specifically, you may be expected to choose sinkhole repair contractors to execute suggested repairs.

Your insurance company’s first steps

Under Florida law, if the damage to your home is consistent with sinkhole activity, the insurance company may be obligated to conduct an investigation into the cause of the damage.  If this damage is, in fact, sinkhole related, the engineering firm retained by the insurance company must prepare a repair recommendation as to how to stabilize the land and repair the foundation.

This repair recommendation will be sealed by an engineer (not a contractor), who must approve the actual plans to do the repair.  In simple terms, the engineering company will make a generalized statement regarding the method of repair that they believe will fix the problem (grouting, grouting and pinning, or pinning only), but will not necessarily present a specific “this is how you fix it” in the report you receive.

Who hires the sinkhole repair contractors?

Once the engineering firm completes its evaluation and presents this report, the insurance company may do two things: (1) do the repairs themselves (which rarely happens – called the “election to repair”), or (2) wait for you to get bids from contractors.

Part of your rights as the homeowner is the entitlement to select the sinkhole repair contractors of your choice, who will then act upon the specific recommendations made by the engineering firm retained by the insurance company.

As long as their work is within the scope of the original engineering firm, your insurance company can have little say about who actually does it.

However, if you do not agree with the method of sinkhole repair recommended by your insurance company’s engineer, there are additional steps you can take. Your first step in this is to contact your insurance company to see if they will accept a second opinion. If they will not, you may need to address this conflict with an attorney who can help you fight for your right to protect your property.

Sinkhole Damage and Structural Issues

What qualifies as “sinkhole damage”?

Question: My home has confirmed sinkhole activity. However, my insurance company denied my claim because they said the damage was not “severe enough.” They indicated to me that unless there is damage that constitutes “structural damage,” it is not covered by my policy. Is this correct?

Coverage for structure and the land

No, it is not. Under Florida law, an insurance company must provide coverage to repair the “structure and the land.” The definition of what constitutes “structural damage” is not defined in the statute. As such, its definition is subject to interpretation by courts, who must determine when structural damage has been met.

The dispute is pretty simple to parse out between the parties. The insurance companies want to take a very narrow interpretation of the word “structure” to mean that it must meet an engineering definition. That definition, from an engineering standpoint, would mean that the sinkhole activity caused a loss of support to the load-bearing walls.

This definition, however, flies in the face of the actual context of the law, which simply states that the insurance company must pay for repairs to stabilize the structure and the land. It does not say, as suggested, that the damage is only covered if it is structural.

Courts denying insurance company arguments

At least one judge in Central Florida looked at this and threw out the insurance company’s arguments. We are working through several of these right now, and I think these arguments will go away once enough courts hear about it.

My bigger concern is that there is also discussion between many insurers that the definition in the law and in their policies should be limited to covering only structural damage. In that case, you could have a home with a large, open sinkhole in the yard, but they disclaim the coverage because of this.