Tag Archives: Sinkhole Damage

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.

What To Do When Insurance Company is Delaying Payment

Insurance company is delaying payment

In many ways, sinkhole insurance claims act differently than any other kind of insurance claim. While any other situation in which your insurance company is delaying payment may be concerning, this is often the case with sinkhole claims. So how do you know when this is normal, and when you need to get a lawyer involved?

Why your insurance company is delaying payment

If your sinkhole insurance company is advising you that they will not pay you until the repairs are completed, this is normal. Put simply, your insurance company is delaying payment on your claim because this is within the legal abilities of your insurance company, whether or not it is convenient for you or your home.

How this affects you

Besides your ability (or lack thereof) to fund the repair of your home and the sinkhole underneath it without payment from your insurance company, this wrinkle in the sinkhole insurance world may worry you about a variety of things:

  • What does my actual policy say about this?
  • What if I do not agree with the way the insurance company’s engineering firm wants to fix the property?
  • What if the costs exceed my homeowner insurance policy limit?
  • What if the sinkhole repair doesn’t work? After I sign the contract, then what?

Unfortunately, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. They may vary widely from case to case, policy to policy, and the first place you need to go to calm your fears is to your insurance company. If your insurance policy does not touch on these potential situations, your insurance company hopefully has standards in place to correct these issues.

When to contact a lawyer

Unfortunately, this situation can be incredibly nerve-wracking, not knowing when or even if you’ll be receiving a settlement for your sinkhole repairs. This means it can also be difficult to ascertain when you should be seeking legal help.

Despite this uncertain law, your insurance company should be certain and consistent about the information they provide you. If you feel they are giving you the run-around or are being told different stories, it’s time to step in for legal advice.

If you’re at all uncertain about the information you’re receiving from your insurance company while they’re handling your claim, do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

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.

What is Chemical Grouting?

What is chemical grouting?

The first thing to know about sinkhole repair is that there are two major methods: grouting and underpinning. In many cases, a successful repair uses both of these methods: the grout to stabilize the soil under the property, and the underpinning to solidify the property’s place on the land itself. Sometimes, however, simple cement grouting doesn’t do the trick, and one must look to chemical grouting.

Why do we need chemical grouting?

As aforementioned, cement grouting is used to stabilize soil that has been affected by a sinkhole. It does this by filling in the holes in the soil to thicken the land, which can prevent another sinkhole or further damage to your home. As one can assume, cement grouting uses a cement mixture to harden the soil.

However, sometimes cement grouting is not the most effective method of thickening soil. In conditions like sand, clay, and rock, cement grouting works just fine; however, cement is not as conducive as a thickening agent in shallow, more organic soils. In these cases where cement does not bind, chemical grouting is more useful. With chemical grouting, the grout itself can provide the stability needed in the soil, as opposed to depending on the soil to create the support for your property.

How is chemical grouting used?

In some situations, both chemical grouting and cement grouting are used to create more stable soils. More and more, engineering firms are calling for chemical grouting in the first 10 feet or so, which can stabilize the more shallow soils. This product is not made of cement but is made of polyurethane or other material made to expand and fill the voids beneath the structure. Therefore, where the soil itself can’t help to stabilize your property, the chemicals in the grout step in and quite literally fill the holes.

Above all else, it is important to remember that your insurance company is responsible for returning your home to its “pre-loss” condition. It is our opinion, as sinkhole lawyers, that Florida law requires a consideration of using chemical grouting to properly and legally fix the sinkhole damage. We would suggest you ask your insurance company and your engineering firm to counsel you on your options.

Is Partial Underpinning a Good Idea?

What is partial underpinning?

To understand partial underpinning, we first need to understand underpinning. Underpinning is a method of sinkhole repair in which the foundation of a home is secured to a metal beam, which is then inserted deep into the ground. Underpinning is used to secure a home to the earth despite past and future sinkholes; even if a sinkhole were to form under a home, it should be securely attached to the earth below it.

That being said, partial underpinning is underpinning that is only applied to one part of a home or building. This may come up in an engineering firm’s report of the best way to repair your sinkhole and the damage it caused your home.

Does partial underpinning work?

We’ve found that partial underpinning usually does more damage than good. This is because, if the earth shifts underneath the home, one part of the home is secured, but the other isn’t. This could mean creating even more damage to the home than a sinkhole would by itself. The only scenario in which this is not true is if you are underpinning a separate addition to a home that rests on another slab. In this case, partially underpinning a home by fully underpinning a smaller, separate slab may be an accurate method to repair sinkhole damage.

Therefore we suggest to avoid partial underpinning, and go for a complete underpinning job. If your engineering firm believes that partial pinning will do the job, then doing a complete underpinning repair should only strengthen the home post-sinkhole repair.

What if it’s my insurance company’s only option?

While being covered by homeowner’s insurance is obviously better than not, one of the issues is that you are depending on your homeowner’s insurance to find a reputable engineering firm that can truly be trusted to fix your home. If the report comes back and partial underpinning is suggested, you should be concerned about this firm and seek outside advice to make sure your home gets the attention it needs.

In this case, it is extremely important that before beginning this plan a homeowner in need of foundation repairs have the plan reviewed and evaluated by an independent expert. Only underpinning one part of a home’s foundation is not a suitable fix for a sinkhole, so do your research and fight for the repairs and coverage you need.

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.

The Tampa Sinkhole Damage Blog Has Been Born

The Tampa Sinkhole Damage Blog

I am very pleased to announce the launch of Sinkhole Damage Blog, a sinkhole law resource for residential and commercial property owners throughout the State of Florida. Located in Tampa, Florida, I am a knowledgeable resource when it comes to Tampa sinkholes. The presence of Tampa sinkhole activity serves as a leading cause of damage to property, and a significant source of disputes between homeowners and their insurance companies.

My experience with Tampa sinkholes

During the past several years in the Tampa Bay area, I received my start in sinkhole [link] law training alongside Ted Corless of Corless Zinober, who are considered to be the leading attorneys in Florida property insurance law. I had a unique opportunity to represent, through Corless Zinober, some of the largest and most complicated insurance companies in the United States. While at Corless Zinober, I represented insurance companies such as State Farm, Nationwide, Citizens, and many others, providing us with the “insider view” into how insurance companies defend these cases. By working with Corless Zinober, I observed the enormous resources insurance companies put behind these cases and gained helpful insight into how to resolve virtually all sinkhole damage claims.

How We’re Different

Unlike nearly all other plaintiff or property owner law firms in the primary counties with sinkhole problems such as Hernando, Pinellas, and Pasco, or in specific cities such as Ocala or Gainesville, we utilize practical perspectives on how sinkhole law is leveraged from both sides of the aisle.

Our Goal

We hope this sinkhole law website is an opportunity for us to share my perspective with homeowners and other professionals, as well as an opportunity to gather information from people on the street. From my experience working with insurance companies, I have a unique perspective and ability to insure your Tampa sinkhole claims get the attention they deserve. [link to landing page]