Tag Archives: Sinkhole Activity

Role of the Neutral Evaluation Program in Sinkhole Claims

What appeal options do I have if I disagree with the findings of my home insurance company

Following the completion of a sinkhole investigation, your home insurance company will provide you with a copy of the engineering report regarding the findings and conclusion as to whether there is a sinkhole in your yard. Sometimes you will be happy if the answer is “no sink hole,” especially when the actual damage is minor. Oftentimes, however, when you have significant damage or other reasons why you filed the claim (e.g. neighbor has a sinkhole), you may disagree with the findings made by your home insurance company. (Read my tips on filing a sinkhole claim with your home insurance company.)

What Is an NEP, and how can my home insurance company challenge it?

Under a new law passed about two years ago, there is a process called a “neutral evaluation program (NEP).” Under this program, the State appoints a “neutral” party to examine the information provided by your home insurance company so that they can determine the accuracy of their findings. After the neutral evaluator does an investigation, s/he will issue a report, either agreeing with the home insurance company’s conclusions (if that is the source of the dispute) or commenting on the repair recommended by the insurance company (if the dispute is over the method of repair, most often underpinning or grouting).

The part that is most important about the NEP is that the findings of the neutral evaluation can be used against you later. For example, home insurance companies will often bring the engineer to the NEP, who they will pay to argue their position to the neutral evaluator. If the neutral evaluator is persuaded to keep the original opinion asserted by the home insurance company, the report of the neutral evaluation can be used later in a trial. This is very damaging to your claim, obviously, because they will be able to suggest that the neutral evaluator was a disinterested party. Most of the time, however, the engineers or geologists selected are working extensively with the home insurance companies, who pay for the vast majority of these sinkhole investigations. So, they are hardly neutral.

How We Can Help

We are able to assist clients three ways:

  1. Appearing at the neutral evaluation hearing with the home insurance company on their behalf
  2. Providing guidance on whether to object to particular neutrals, who are on the State approved list
  3. Providing the persuasive arguments at the hearing, so that we have a great opportunity to obtain a neutral report in your favor.

A lot of cases get settled because of these reports, in the insureds’ favors and sometimes not, so if you are facing one of these, move cautiously.

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

Devastation Caused by Sinkhole Collapse in Hudson, Florida

Breaking News: Hudson Sinkhole Collapse Shows Mother Nature’s Power

Hudson, Florida is not unfamiliar to the impact of sinkhole activity. This particular area records frequent and severe sinkhole activity throughout its residential and commercial areas. Today, however, one of the largest sinkholes in recent past presented itself in the in the form of a 10′ wide, 20′ long, and 30′ deep sinkhole in the front yard of the home. The damage to the area from the sinkhole collapse was dramatic and is likely to trigger other, nearby settlement issues in the neighborhoods.

While most sinkhole activity associated with insurance claims is usually not this dramatic (e.g. stair-step cracks, windows racking), these cover-collapse sinkholes do appear. In recent past, Marion County and Hernando County both made headlines when homeowners lost entire sections of their house due to sinkhole collapse, luckily while no one was at home.

Read the full story about this sinkhole collapse.

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

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.

Buying a House? Check a Florida Sinkhole Map

Florida sinkhole map

If you own a home, are considering owning a home, or even renting in Florida, sinkholes are very real dangers that need to be accounted for.  If you are unable to predict a sinkhole before a hole opens underneath your home, you can be aware of where sinkholes have already opened and go from there.

Of course, sinkholes are incredibly common all over Florida, due to the heavy rainfall we experience. Unfortunately, sinkhole activity can be present in every region of Florida, and there is no escaping that fact. It is true that some regions show a greater prominence of reported claims. However, keep in mind that there is a difference between claims being reported and sinkhole activity actually being present.

Reference a Florida sinkhole map before you purchase

Therefore, whether you purchase or buy, you want to get a full picture of the property before you settle in; while you may not be directly responsible for a sinkhole opening under a house you rent, you may be displaced or your property damaged, so there is no excuse to stay ignorant!

Fortunately, earthtech.com has a free Florida sinkhole map available – all you need to do is type in your address, your preferred distance, and click ‘search’.

It’s also worth knowing that the greatest area of growth in the discovery of sinkholes would be the Marion County (Ocala) and Alachua County (Gainesville) areas, where more and more homeowners are discovering sinkhole activity.

If you’ve already purchased a sinkhole home

If you’ve purchased a home only to find physical evidence of a forming sinkhole (such as cracks in the walls, soggy foundation, etc.), don’t hesitate to contact your insurance company. If your policy cover sinkholes, your insurance company can send a contractor to investigate the damage and assess the next step forward in preventing a potential catastrophe.

Lake Eaton Sinkhole Spawns Other Sinkholes in Florida

Does the Lake Eaton Sinkhole play a role in the increase in  sinkhole activity in Marion County?

Most areas under investigation for sinkhole activity begin with an analysis of the regional geography around the subject property. However small the area is under investigation, a professional engineer or professional geologist will examine the overall regional influences and conditions, which may give rise to sinkhole activity.

In the Ocala area and in other Marion county areas, nothing could be more telling than the Lake Eaton Sinkhole. This area contains a large, 80 foot deep, 450 wide sinkhole. This area was later developed into the Ocala National Forest, used for outdoor sports, hiking, and a beautiful nature walk. As beautiful as this Ocala-located sinkhole is, it provides probative information regarding the geological conditions in the Marion County area, where sinkhole activity and sinkhole damage may be present.

In our representation of homeowners involved in property insurance disputes over sinkhole damage in the Marion County area, we find most professionals begin with any analysis of the Lake Eaton Sinkhole and describe its relationship to the homes not far away. While sinkhole activity and sinkhole damage has been associated more with the Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas counties, Marion County is experiencing a considerable increase in the number of sinkhole claims. While the ultimate source of this increase is unknown, it is fair to assume it can be attributed in part to the increased awareness and concerns of the Marion County residents. Recently, a homeowner whose house required one of the most expensive repairs we have seen as property sinkhole insurance lawyers.

What is a sinkhole?

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