Tag Archives: Sinkhole Attorneys

How to Handle Living Expenses in Your Sinkhole Claims

If I have my home repaired for sinkhole damage, can I include the living expenses I incur while the repairs are being done in my sinkhole claim?

After an insurance company confirms a loss has occurred, the repairs to the property then follow. This phase of the sinkhole claim process is lengthy and wrought with obstacles to the insured. Primarily, an insured may have additional living expenses that are incurred due to temporarily vacating the residence during the repair work. Many of our clients cannot afford to continue to pay their monthly bills in addition to the costs of staying in a rental home or hotel during the completion of the repair work at their home.

A brief review of an insurance policy will identify whether such additional living expenses are provided, the limits of any such coverage, and how any such expenses will be reimbursed by the insurance company. These costs to the insured that are incidental to the repair work being performed are typically not paid by the insurance company until they are incurred (and not unless the insured demands payment for these covered expenses). In order to substantiate a sinkhole claim, it is important to save all receipts and other supporting documentation of any additional living expenses that may arise during the timeframe the insured is unable to reside in the home due to a covered sinkhole loss.

Read our tips on filling out a sinkhole claim.

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

Mediation as a Means to Settle a Sinkhole Dispute

I was told I’m going to have to go to mediation. What is it, and what can I expect?

Sinkhole claims are often resolved in mediation. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution – that is, a method of resolving a dispute that is an alternative to litigation. The parties to a dispute meet face-to-face and attempt to reach a compromise to settle the dispute. Insurance claims may be mediated by agreement prior to the filing of a lawsuit, although that is unusual. Typically, claims are mediated after a lawsuit is filed, and, in fact, courts require each case to go through mediation before trial.

A mediator who is specially trained in helping parties reach settlement agreements presides over the mediation conference. (Many mediators are former judges.) The mediator begins the mediation by describing the process to the parties. Then each of the parties, or their attorneys, describes their position in an opening statement. The Plaintiff or claimant usually includes a settlement demand in their opening statement. The parties go to separate rooms so that they can discuss their positions with their attorneys. The mediator conveys settlement offers between the parties until either a settlement is reached or it is determined that there is no possibility of settling the matter (referred to as an impasse).

Some insurance companies prefer to mediate claims early in the litigation process, while others prefer to wait until a later stage when discovery is complete. Either way, mediation usually offers the greatest chance of resolving a claim or lawsuit prior to trial.

Any settlement reached at mediation is entirely voluntary. The mediator cannot force any party to make a settlement demand or offer and cannot force any party to accept the other party’s demand or offer. One of the most significant characteristics of mediation is that everything said in mediation is confidential. That is, nothing that is said at mediation by any party may later be used in court. This makes mediation the only time in the litigation process where the parties can communicate freely with each other, making it more likely that a case will settle at mediation than at any other time.

Read my tips on filing a sinkhole claim.

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

Sinkhole Repairs for Other Structures on Property

Other than the property coverage provided for under my insurance policy, does my insurance policy cover sinkhole repairs for other things, such as my driveway and other parts of my home?

Quite frequently sinkhole damage can occur to areas of an insured property that are separate and apart from the dwelling residence. Depending on your policy, there may be coverage for additional structures on the property. Typically, this would potentially include a guesthouse, driveway or other permanent improvement to the land.

In our experience, insurance companies will sometimes attempt to include the sinkhole repairs to damages for additional insured structures under the coverage for the main dwelling residence. This unfairly deprives the insured of other available coverage, which is separate from the insurance for the dwelling on the insured property.

For instance, an engineer hired by the insurance company confirmed sinkhole activity affecting the property and prepared a  sinkhole repair plan calling for grout to be injected under several points under the driveway. This grouting, by necessity, involved the separately insured other structure (the driveway), yet the insurance company failed to apply the other available coverage to this portion of the sinkhole repair. Instead, the insurer unfairly attempted to “lump” this segment of the sinkhole repair under the coverage for the main dwelling.

We provide analysis and answers to our insured clients about this and many other types of insurance policy questions.

Read our tips on filling out a sinkhole claim.

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

The Effect of Past Sinkhole Claims on a Current Sinkhole Claim

Question: After I discovered damage to my home that I thought might be sinkhole related, I found out my house had confirmed sinkhole activity before I bought it. Does this impact my sinkhole claim?

What to know about past sinkholes on your new home

If a property previously experienced sinkhole activity or was involved in a sinkhole claim, the insurance company will attempt to defend the new claim by alleging the damage is all pre-existing or was related to the past claim. A seller of property in Florida who made a prior sinkhole claim or received any settlement proceeds for a sinkhole claim will need to fully disclose the relevant details of the claim to the purchaser of such property. This would include:

  • A description of the magnitude of the sinkhole damages
  • The extent of any repairs completed at the property
  • The amount of the sinkhole claim settlement proceeds that were utilized for any repairs

An insurance company will want to know the information concerning the past sinkhole claim and if the dwelling demonstrates new evidence of continued progression of damage due to the past failed repair attempt. Having the details of any past sinkhole claim is critical to pursuing any renewed or new claim by the insured homeowner.

As long as the insured honestly puts forth all noteworthy facts to his/her home insurance company and discloses all material information about the history of the home, there should be little reason for an insurance company to not perform a fair investigation into the sinkhole claim.

Because of our experience working for the insurance carriers, we are familiar with certain tactics frequently employed by the insurance companies in fighting sinkhole claims, and we know what to expect.

Please contact us to discuss your legal options and to how to best protect your rights under the insurance contract and Florida law.

Wall Street Journal’s Two Cents on Florida’s Sinkhole Issues

As Florida’s sinkhole issues continue to become national news, the Wall Street Journal recently decided to get into the fray. Unfortunately, the article had a very pro-insurance slant and went out of its way to place those fighting for homeowners in a very negative light. The article focuses on public adjusters here in Florida and their role in the sinkhole claims process.

Debating the Journal’s stance

Kevin McCarty, commissioner of Florida”s office of insurance regulation, led the charge in this article bashing those that file claims. Mr. McCarty presents numerous statistics demonstrating the rise of sinkhole claims filed and benefits paid out but do these numbers really tell the whole story? Isn’t it possible that homeowners are simply becoming more aware of sinkhole issues and the damages to look out for?

Florida is a state that experiences a tremendous amount of growth yearly. The result is a tremendous amount of new housing and land development. This development is quite often in areas prone to sinkhole activity and in areas that had previously been undisturbed.

Why homeowners are seeing more sinkholes

Many geologists will tell you that the number of sinkholes in Florida today is no different than it would have been a hundred years ago. The difference is we are building in these areas. This is often associated with drilling, compacting soils, heavy machinery, even heavier structures and even disturbance of local aquifers and wells. These activities can literally activate dormant sinkhole activity.

Assuming this to be true, Florida homeowners will always face the potential threat of sinkhole activity. The fact that Florida insurers now are scrambling to drop coverage is a scary proposition for any and all homeowners, especially after they have been collecting sinkhole premiums for decades.

The Journal’s other victims

You will see from the article that public adjusters were not the only target of the Wall Street Journal wrath. Yours truly and the Barfield Law Group were also picked on. The Journal mentions the Barfield Law Group billboard on the Crosstown in Tampa in quite a condescending tone. Sorry guys, I don’t plan on abandoning homeowners to fight alone any time soon.

If you have a situation requiring legal representation for a sinkhole damage claim, contact Morgan Barfield at Barfield Law Group, 813-251-1285.

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

Florida Sinkhole Statutes Regulate Investigations

How sinkhole coverage is investigated

Question: If I file a claim for sinkhole coverage, what kind of investigation does the insurance company have to perform?

The Florida sinkhole statutes relating to investigations for sinkholes are very precise. These statutes require certain particularities concerning the professionals who must perform the subsidence investigations, as well as the methods and standards involved in the tests to determine the presence or absence of sinkhole activity.

What insurance will do

Some insurance carriers believe they can merely “look” at your property to make this determination or they hire an outside company to “look” at your property to determine the presence or absence of sinkhole activity, without conducting the costly testing required by Florida’s sinkhole statutes.

However, a “forensic structural investigation” is an untrustworthy, less expensive alternative relied upon by some insurance carriers, and there is typically no geotechnical data to support any competent opinion concerning the subsurface conditions at the insured property.

What you need

We are thoroughly familiar with the proper testing methods, which are vital to determine if damage to a structure is related to sinkhole or settlement activity, and we are able to address the shortfalls and deficiencies in most investigation reports.

That being said, if your insurance company has come up with an analysis of your property that is raising red flags, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer to ensure you are getting the attention you are entitled to from your insurance company.

Sinkhole Insurance Claim Delays

Question: The experts say there’s sinkhole activity on my property but does it necessarily mean the insurance company will cover the damage?

We have recently received a fair amount of inquiries from homeowners who have reported a sinkhole claim, have had the property tested, have been told by the engineering firm that sinkhole activity is present at their property, but they are still waiting for their insurance company to decide if they will be covering the loss.

How to know what insurance will cover

It is often difficult for people to understand why a report discovering sinkhole activity does not automatically qualify them for the sinkhole insurance benefits in their policy. As we have discussed previously, there are many reasons why an insurance company can deny sinkhole coverage such as misrepresentations on applications or prior damages.

If you have had your home tested and instead of issuing payments, your insurance company demands you provide a truckload of documents such as home inspection reports, mortgage information, seller disclosure forms or photographs, be cautious. This most likely means your sinkhole insurance carrier is looking for alternative ways to deny your claim and get out of paying you benefits.

When to be skeptical if your insurance carrier

This is a slippery slope and sometimes a homeowner’s honesty and willingness to cooperate can be used against them. Of course, you do have a duty to cooperate and the insurance company is usually entitled to this information if you have it.

It may be smart to keep in perspective what the insurance company plans to do with this information. If you’re ever unsure about what the information you’re being asked for has to do with your claim, contact an attorney. While you will not be paid unless you cooperate fully, you are not obligated to answer every question, and having an attorney on your side can help keep your claim on track.

Read our tips on filling out a sinkhole claim.

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

Sinkhole Information Online and Elsewhere

Organizing sinkhole resources

Due to the sheer number of sinkhole claims filed in Florida, there are a lot of websites sponsored by geotechnical firms, geologists, sinkhole attorneys, and sinkhole repair companies, each attempting to get your attention on how to deal with these problems.

Sometimes the websites are designed to inform, persuade, or, honestly, confuse you about the issues, each for their own reason.  Our purpose is to provide you the most balanced sinkhole information available so that you can make informed decisions, whether you are attempting to determine whether to file a sinkhole claim, repair a sinkhole home, or determine whether to file a sinkhole lawsuit.  This may be too much information for some or too little for others, but we believe it suits most.

Define the sinkhole issue

The first thing you need to do in looking for a sinkhole lawyer or a consultant is to properly define your issue. What is the real issue, now, that must be resolved before I can move forward to solve the total problem?

For example, if you are unsure whether to file a sinkhole claim because of the damage at your property, it may be premature to be looking to consult with a sinkhole repair contractor.

Additionally, many of these professionals charge for different services on a percentage of your total repair costs, which should be considered as well.  A public adjuster may be helpful in negotiating a repair claim, but less helpful for a denied sinkhole claim, where a lawyer will be necessary if a lawsuit is filed.

Plan, educate, execute

My suggestion is to map out your plans carefully and to educate yourself.  Read your policy.  What does it say your rights are?  If you do not understand the terms, ask your insurance company about your sinkhole coverage and demand they put everything in writing to you.

If the answers do not make sense, it may be time to talk to a lawyer.  If you have questions about a repair method for sinkholes, it may be good to talk to an independent company who was not hired by the insurance company.  As we always tell people, we may not have the answer to your question, but I bet we know who can answer it.

To File or Not To File: That Is the Question

How do I know if and/or when I should file a sinkhole claim?

Deciding to file a sinkhole claim for settlement damage is either really easy or really hard. The reason being that it is really easy if the damage to the home is immediate, material, and creating a potentially damaging environment for you and your family.

Conversely, if the damage is mild to moderate, located in isolated areas of your home, or just is not creating a specific problem for you, you may be mulling over whether you want to file a claim.

Questions you should be asking

The answer as to “when” to file a claim always depends on each situation. But, having said that, here are the primary issues you should resolve:

  1. If I file a sinkhole claim, and it turns out not to be a sinkhole, then what? Will my insurance be canceled?
  2. If I file a claim and there IS a sinkhole or sinkhole activity, then what?
  3. If I decide to wait and file a claim, does this impact my rights under my policy?

The answer to the question, if the investigation is a no, can be troubling. First, if you seek damage consistent with sinkhole activity (e.g. stair-step cracks, floor cracking, or doors “racking”), the insurance company is obligated under Florida law to investigate whether the damage is sinkhole related.

What your insurance company will do

Your insurance company will hire a sinkhole investigation company to conduct various engineering studies at your home, and a copy of the report will be provided to you. If they do not find sinkhole activity, then you will be told the most likely cause of the damage.

If you are not a “regular” filer of insurance claims, there is not usually a consequence, unless they determine there is something else, not insured, which you have to remedy.

What to be prepared for

If the investigation determines the cause of the damage IS sinkhole activity, be prepared for a ride. Most home insurance companies do a very poor job of managing sinkhole claims where there has been confirmed sinkhole activity.

In counties like Marion, Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas, things can also be complicated by suggestions in the engineering report that the damage resulted from sinkhole activity and something else (e.g. expansive clay, organics). There is also a chance you will be arguing over underpinning versus grouting, for the subsurface repairs.

In most cases, insurance companies do not want to use underpinning, because it is expensive and often causes other damage to the house during the installation. This is one of the most common disputes among our clients, in all of the heavy counties where sinkhole claims are filed.

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.