Sinkholes occur often throughout Florida, but the highest activity level affects the west central part of the state known as “Sinkhole Alley.” The Orlando area is technically not part of the Alley; however, Orange County, as well as surrounding Seminole, Lake, Sumter, Polk and Osceola counties, see their fair share of sinkhole disasters.
Unfortunately, these disasters have become more common in recent years, due in part to increased land development, water pumping and retention ponds. Although they rarely injure people (with notable exceptions, such as the Tampa-area man whose bedroom was “swallowed” by a 20 by 20-foot sinkhole with him in it in 2013), these sinkholes destroy entire structures, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage each year in Florida.
Florida Sinkhole Insurance
According to Florida law, Florida insurance policies must provide coverage for a catastrophic ground cover collapse and offer more comprehensive sinkhole coverage as an endorsement for an additional premium. Unfortunately, even with this kind of protection, many claims for sinkhole damage get denied or undervalued.
If your home or business has been damaged by sinkhole activity and you are having problems with your insurance claim, the attorneys at Malik Law can help you. We specialize in insurance disputes and are very familiar with the tactics insurance companies use to try to avoid paying legitimate claims. We know insurance law and your rights under the law and will fight to get the settlement you deserve.
What Causes Sinkholes in Florida?
The combination of ground, climate and man-made development in Florida make it the perfect environment for sinkholes. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the erosion of the limestone rock that underlies much of the state is the primary reason sinkholes are so common here.
As acidic rain water and plant material erode the porous limestone, cavities open up in the rock, resulting in a landform called karst. Soil and rocks cover the cavities and a normal amount of groundwater keeps the karst stable. However, when the cavities become too big to support the ground above them or when there is a huge influx of groundwater during a heavy rainstorm, the ground can collapse, leaving a huge hole.
While this is a natural process that occurs throughout other parts of the world, the land development explosion in Florida has increased the prevalence of sinkholes. Buildings, roads, parking lots, buried infrastructure and pumping of groundwater can all disrupt the natural water table and destabilize the fragile karst environment, leaving us vulnerable to the devastation of unpredictable sinkholes.
What Are the Common Signs of Sinkholes in Florida?
It is difficult to predict where or when a sinkhole will occur in Florida; however, there are common warning signs to be aware of:
- Cracks in a building’s foundation
- Settling foundation
- Cracks in the ceiling
- Cracks in interior joint areas
- Sloping floors
- Sticking doors and windows
- Cracks in stucco or exterior block
- Loss of pool water
- Depressions in the yard or street
- Separations, cracks, and gaps in concrete
- Sinkholes in the neighborhood
Does My Insurance Policy Cover Sinkhole Damage?
Many Florida homeowners do not realize that most sinkhole damage is not covered by their standard homeowners’ insurance policy. Section 627.706(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes stipulates that all property insurance policies have to provide coverage for “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” defined in section (2)(a) as “geological activity that results in all of the following:
- The abrupt collapse of the ground cover;
- A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye;
- Structural damage to the covered building, including the foundation; and
- 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.”
Damage due to settling or cracking, whether it be a foundation, building or other structure, is not considered “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” even if caused by a sinkhole and, therefore, is not usually covered by your standard homeowners’ policy.
Unfortunately, even if you have an endorsement or special coverage for sinkhole damage, a lot of potential damage may not be covered under the terms of your policy. In addition, most sinkhole policies include a specified deductible amount to be paid by the homeowner before coverage begins.
What to Do When Your Property Is Damaged by a Sinkhole
If a sinkhole opens on your property, make sure your family is safe and then move valuable items to a safe place, if possible. Keep others away from the sinkhole area with fencing, caution tape or rope. Then, as soon as possible, notify your insurance company and your city or county building inspection department.
If you have sinkhole coverage, your insurance company will probably send out an adjuster and have geological testing done to determine what caused the damage to your property. If the testing confirms that a sinkhole was the cause, your insurance policy should pay for the testing and repairs, less any applicable deductibles. According to Section 627.706(1)(b), Florida Statutes, the deductible amount for sinkhole losses can be 1, 2, 5 or 10 percent of the policy dwelling limits.
What to Do If Your Florida Sinkhole Claim is Denied or Undervalued
If your insurance company denies your sinkhole damage claim based on their testing or assessment of the damage without testing, you can have an objective professional engineer or geologist, who is a state-certified Neutral Evaluator, review your insurer’s findings by participating in the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Neutral Evaluation Program. The Neutral Evaluator will determine the existence of sinkhole activity and method of repair and remediation, but the evaluation itself is non-binding.
Whether your sinkhole claim has been denied or undervalued, consulting with an experienced Florida insurance claim attorney is recommended. You always have the right to appeal your insurance company’s decision on your claim and to pursue legal action if you believe they have been intentionally misleading or contradictory to the terms of your policy. It may well be in your best interest to work with a knowledgeable attorney, since Insurance companies often respond quicker and more favorably to policyholders who have an attorney helping them with a claim dispute.
Experienced Orlando Sinkhole Claim Attorneys Can Help
The experienced insurance claim dispute attorneys at Malik Law know the tactics insurers use to avoid paying Florida sinkhole claims and can counter them knowledgeably and aggressively. We will negotiate vigorously on your behalf and fight for the payment you deserve.
If you have questions about your sinkhole policy or you are having problems getting your payment for repairs because your claim was denied or undervalued, contact or experienced sinkhole insurance claim attorneys. Malik Law, PA. is a leading Florida insurance litigation law firm, providing optimal representation for property owners and injury victims. We have helped our clients recover millions of dollars from insurance companies and want to help you obtain the payment you deserve.
For advice you can trust and personalized service, call us, submit the Free Case Evaluation form on our website, or chat with us online. We provide free consultations on your insurance policy and claim and will handle your case on a contingency basis. You will not pay us until we get compensation for your claim. Top of Form
Bodenner, C. (2018, May 24). The science behind Florida’s sinkhole epidemic. Smithsonian Magazine.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection. (n.d.) Sinkholes.
Florida Department of Financial Services. (2017, April). Sinkholes and catastrophic ground cover collapse.
Izadi, E. (2015, Aug. 19). Florida sinkhole reopens two years after it swallowed a sleeping man and killed him. The Washington Post.