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Sinkhole Damage Claims

Sinkholes are a common occurrence in Florida due to the topographical makeup of limestone or dolostone overlain by sandy soils. Sinkholes can cause serious damage to your property and the repairs are often very extensive.

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Florida law defines a sinkhole as “a landform created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. A sinkhole may form by collapse into subterranean voids created by dissolution of limestone or dolostone or by subsidence as these strata are dissolved.” Fla. Stat. section 627.706.

Unfortunately, in Florida insurance companies are only required to provide catastrophic ground cover collapse coverage. “Catastrophic ground cover collapse” means geological activity that results in all the following:

1. The abrupt collapse of the ground cover;

2. A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye;

3. Structural damage to the covered building, including the foundation; and

4. The insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the governmental agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.

Even if your policy provides for more comprehensive sinkhole coverage, the Florida legislature limited coverage for Florida property owners in 2011 by adding a “structural damage” requirement before the insurance company had to provide repairs for sinkhole related damage. Florida law now defines structural damage for purpose of a sinkhole loss as follows:

“Structural damage” means a covered building, regardless of the date of its construction, has experienced the following:

1. Interior floor displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 117-90 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the interior such that the interior building structure or members become unfit for service or represents a safety hazard as defined within the Florida Building Code;

2. Foundation displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 318-95 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the primary structural members or primary structural systems that prevents those members or systems from supporting the loads and forces they were designed to support to the extent that stresses in those primary structural members or primary structural systems exceeds one and one-third the nominal strength allowed under the Florida Building Code for new buildings of similar structure, purpose, or location;

3. Damage that results in listing, leaning, or buckling of the exterior load-bearing walls or other vertical primary structural members to such an extent that a plumb line passing through the center of gravity does not fall inside the middle one-third of the base as defined within the Florida Building Code;

4. Damage that results in the building, or any portion of the building containing primary structural members or primary structural systems, being significantly likely to imminently collapse because of the movement or instability of the ground within the influence zone of the supporting ground within the sheer plane necessary for the purpose of supporting such building as defined within the Florida Building Code; or

5. Damage occurring on or after October 15, 2005, that qualifies as “substantial structural damage” as defined in the Florida Building Code.

Fla. Stat. 627.706(2)(k)(1)-(5).

If you don’t have sinkhole coverage or if you don’t meet these requirements the insurance company will deny your claim. A sinkhole claim is a very complex matter both in terms of the policy and/or statutory provisions, as well as the geological and geotechnical science related to same. If you have difficulty with a sinkhole claim or questions related to the insurance company’s handling of your claim, please call us for a free consultation.