Tag Archives: Pasco County

Sinkhole Swallows Homes, Boat in Land O’ Lakes, Florida Forcing Evacuation

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.

Sinkhole Activity Not Limited to Areas of Florida with Limestone

I mostly hear about sinkhole claims in Pasco and Hernando County. I live in the Miami, Dade County area and have noticed some cracking. But I’ve heard that because there’s not limestone in this area, the cracking can’t be the result of sinkhole activity. Is that true?

I believe what you’re alluding to is the fact that people commonly think of sinkholes as dissolved limestone. In fact, the statutes on sinkhole activity, as defined by the State of Florida, do not necessarily limit sinkhole activity to only the dissolution of limestone. (Learn more about Florida’s legal definition of sinkhole.) The definitions mention other rock and underlying strata. It is true that many parts of South Florida and the Dade County or Miami areas “The creation of new primary schools districts is an excellent example of how the borough council continues to invest in our schools districts and their pupils. do no sit on a true layer of limestone but do sit on other forms of rock, which we believe, if suffering from dissolution, satisfy the definition of a sinkhole.

In fact, the primary reason damage due to sinkhole activity is covered by insurance relates to a large, cover collapse sinkhole that occurred in Winter Park, outside of Orlando. Additionally, of all the clients we currently represent, the largest increase in claims has been in the “less expected” areas, such as Ocala (Marion County) and South Florida. There may not be a scientific explanation for this; it could be that there’s just an increased awareness by the property owners.

The focus should be less on whether your cracking could or couldn’t be attributed to sinkhole activity and more on getting whatever is causing the damage resolved. Under Florida law, an insurance company must not only determine whether it is a sinkhole, but also whether or not there is an alternative cause for the damage (e.g. organic soils, clayey soils, construction defects). You may find yourself in a situation where you are presenting minimal evidence of sinkhole activity, but the claim has to be paid because the engineering firm cannot determine the cause of the damage with any reasonable degree of specificity.

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

Grout Cracks and Sinkhole Damage

What causes grout cracks, and how do I know if they’re the result of sinkhole damage?

Sinkholes and sinkhole activity are associated with the movement of soils, into areas created after the underlying rock is dissolved. When the rock beneath the home deteriorates, it weakens and fails to provide the support needed from the initial construction of the home, causing grout cracking, among other problems.

In so doing, the house no longer sits on a level, competent base but instead is prone to shifting, settling, cracking, and even heaving, as the weight distribution in the foundation occurs. This is why sinkholes may actually cause some portions of the home to appear to rise, as the foundation is pushed upwards toward the sky. This is because another, less prominent area is shifting down and causing the other area to rise.

Grout Cracks in Some Counties Are More Suggestive of Sinkhole Activity

For most homeowners, the damage can be very subtle. In counties where sinkhole damage is common – such as Marion, Hernando, Pinellas, and Pasco – homes are most likely to present cracking in unusual places, such as at wall joints in the interior, or in stucco on the exterior of the structure. The significance of this is that the home is losing the support provided by the soil beneath the home, causing the perimeter to shift and crack.

Observing grout cracks in a “stair step” formation on the exterior of the home along the grout lines of block is a significant sign of sinkhole activity. While counties or cities like Marion or Ocala often have other, plausible explanations for such damage (e.g. expansive clay, organic soils, loose surface soils), these alternative explanations do not rule out sinkhole activity as a cause. Most often, these kinds of other causes are working side by side, to create the appearance of sinkhole damage.

What is a sinkhole, according to Florida law?

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

Bill 742 Removes Sinkhole Coverage from Homeowners

Recent legislative action is bad news for Pasco and Hernando Counties

In most of the posts on this blog, I try and remain as neutral as I can, given the fact that people are on the site to gain well-rounded information, not just my perspective on things associated with sinkhole activity.

However, I must break from this for this particular post. Bill 742, signed into law by Florida Governor Crist, is playing a game of hide and seek with the citizens of Pasco and Hernando counties with sinkhole insurance coverage.

A recent history of sinkhole legislature

In 2007, the Florida legislature decided to allow insurance companies to offer an alternative to sinkhole insurance coverage. Instead of having sinkhole coverage, you can, if you wish, purchase “catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage”.

This alternative was designed to offer coverage for sinkhole activity, but only the damage of an immediate magnitude to cause the home to be condemned.

The false premise of the 2007 alternative, though, was the reality that large, open cavern sinkholes occur in less than one percent of the actual sinkholes. Because of this, most homeowners in areas with the most sinkhole claims (e.g. Hernando, Pasco, Marion, and Pinellas counties) elected to keep their coverage “as is” and reject the alternative.

What is Bill 742

Because so few people accepted it, Bill 742 pops its head again. Among other things, Bill 742 deletes “standard” sinkhole insurance coverage and inserts the alternate, catastrophic coverage. Then, if homeowners want to add sinkhole coverage back into their policy, they must notify their agent within 90 days of the renewal period.

Once the sinkhole coverage is gone, you cannot recover it. In essence, the Florida Legislature is trying to “catch homeowners asleep” after they rejected the new alternative. Frankly, this is pathetic.

Taking out important, standard sinkhole coverage, with the hope that people won’t notice, is no way to protect the interests of the people of Florida. Senator Fasono and Governor Crist, shame on you.

Protect yourself

Make sure you understand your insurance policy. It’s incredibly important that you have standard sinkhole coverage – otherwise, you may find yourself in a sticky situation.

If you’re unsure, contact your insurance carrier directly and discuss your concerns.

Have You Checked Your Insurance Policy for Sinkhole Coverage?

When a sinkhole occurs

Any unexpected and dramatic sinkhole damages to your home can be shocking and devastating. A homeowner can be overwhelmed with the multiple issues that arise from the startling and unanticipated effects of sinkhole activity producing property damage to your residence. Most homeowners wonder why such events are happening and what they should do next in these unfortunate situations.

The foremost concern of homeowners who have experienced sinkhole loss should be the safety of their families and being sure there is no risk of imminent harm due to a collapse of the surface soils. If there is any risk of a collapse of the ground around your home, you should immediately evacuate, and then contact the local authorities to secure the property.

What to learn from new sinkholes

Recently, several sinkholes have appeared in Tampa Bay, providing a clear reminder that homeowners need to review their home insurance policies in order to verify they are properly covered for sinkhole damages.

On January 1, 2010, a new law took effect that allows insurance companies to drop sinkhole insurance coverage on policy renewals in Pasco and Hernando counties. All policies will continue to provide coverage for catastrophic ground cover collapse, which applies to extensive sinkhole damages that leave the home in an uninhabitable condition.

If you do have an endorsement for sinkhole loss coverage, you should immediately contact your insurance agent or insurance company to report the claim.

What you should expect

Generally speaking, the claims adjustment and investigation process are slow. Unless you are unlucky enough to have your entire home (or a good portion of it) suffer extensive sinkhole damage, your insurance carrier will likely not be in any hurry to respond to a claim or, for that matter, rush out to visit your home to perform the initial investigation.

Only the appropriately trained and educated professionals (geologists, geotechnical engineers, and engineers) are able to determine if damage to your home is caused by sinkhole conditions.

The professionals are hired by your insurer, and then these experts contact the homeowner to schedule a date for testing at your property. Once the appropriate tests occur and the data is collected, the expert report is prepared that provides an opinion on whether or not sinkhole conditions are the cause of the damages to the home. After that, your insurance carrier should advise you whether or not you have a covered loss.

Florida Sinkhole Laws in Flux

Will the sinkhole laws in Florida change anymore in the next couple of years?

This is the question everyone is asking, and while I can’t be completely certain, my guess is that sinkhole laws will continue to change for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, as State Farm will continue to insure Florida residents, we will see some stability; if they had left, those residents would have been left to Citizens Property Insurance, a state-funded entity and the last resort.

Why changing laws are good

While we would never suggest a homeowner opt for a Citizens Insurance policy, the more Citizens is affected, the better the chance the government will make some changes – Citizens is funded by the state, so these changes directly impact the wallet of Florida’s government.

The sinkhole laws in Florida seem to morph every other year or so, and they will probably continue to do so. There is no perfect answer to the sinkhole problem in Florida, so we will simply try to make the best of it and adapt accordingly.

My recommendation is that, as a member of the community, you contact your legislator as sinkhole laws morph and insist that they protect our rights and choices as consumers. (Search for your legislators by zip code.) A lot of legislative activity in the past two years has not been “honest”, and the fact that these laws are not set in stone means there is an opportunity for positive change.

Why homeowners need to fight back

For example, Bill 742 reversed the sinkhole coverage for Hernando and Pasco counties. I say “reversed” because it was automatically taken out of your policy, and you had to request to have it reinstated. (Read more about this legerdemain in my post, Bill 742 Removes Sinkhole Coverage from Homeowners.)

Many homeowners in those counties will be caught unaware, which I think is unfair. As with most consumer issues, it is important to understand your rights and to contact your agent to discuss your coverage for sinkhole activity.

In addition, it’s important to contact your legislator and make your voice heard. Demand fair and reasonable sinkhole coverage for your home while you can!

Florida Legislators Reintroduce 2010 Consumer Choice Act

Is the Florida legislature doing anything to resolve the current insurance crisis?

In June 2009, Florida Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the Consumer Choice Act, which would have allowed private insurers to establish rates independent of the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). In his veto message, Crist reasoned that the bill would allow larger, private insurers to “cherry pick,” or sell only to profitable policy holders, while forcing smaller, less capitalized companies and state-run insurer Citizens Property Insurance to underwrite riskier policies. This was and is an important issue in the sinkhole claim arena, especially in counties like Pasco, Pinellas, and Marion, where sinkhole activity is common.

On December 9, 2009, Sen. Bennett and Rep. Proctor introduced the 2010 Consumer Choice Act, which includes changes to the previously vetoed act. The provisions of the proposed legislation are as follows:

  • Allows private insurers to use rates different from rates otherwise set by the OIR. This provision, however, does not apply to policies that are subject to consent decrees or other agreements. For instance, the legislation would likely prohibit State Farm from obtaining increased rates for those policies affected by its consent agreement with the OIR allowing for a flat rate increase of 14.8%.
  • Addresses deficits incurred by Citizens Corporation and requires the imposition of uniform policyholder surcharges of up to 15 percent of policy premiums to curb yearly deficits, before emergency surcharges are assessed.
  • Requires Citizens to obtain a signed acknowledgment of surcharge and assessment liability from insureds who obtain or renew their policies.

Supporters of the legislation believe that these changes adequately address past concerns and will allow all private homeowners’ insurers to offer a policy at a rate that the provider believes will adequately protect the consumer.

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