What to Know About a Sinkhole Lawsuit in Florida
Tampa and Hillsborough county sit directly in an area becoming increasingly known as “Sinkhole Alley.” Our whole area accounts for more than 60% of all sinkhole insurance claims in Florida.
There are many things that can happen when a sinkhole opens up. Your property will be damaged, and this sudden event could lead to serious injuries.
If you’ve been the victim of a sinkhole event, you may have a legal case. For example, if you suffered damages as a result of not being informed about the potential for a sinkhole or your insurance company denied your sinkhole claim, you will want to speak with a sinkhole attorney in Tampa. Knowing your rights will help you pick up the pieces and move forward with your life faster.
Learn about your legal rights and your ability to pursue a claim for injury, property damage, and other losses during a risk-free case evaluation. Darrigo & Diaz will provide you with seasoned legal guidance drawing from our deep experience and professional knowledge. Call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free, no-obligation case review.
What is a Sinkhole?
A sinkhole is any hollow depression or hole in the earth’s surface caused by some kind of catastrophic collapse of its surface layer, usually due to soil pressure or some other natural cause. The majority of sinkholes are caused by various geological processes. Others are caused by human interference, such as digging or other construction activities. Whether it’s a natural occurrence or man-made, sinkholes can be very dangerous.
What are Common Causes of Sinkholes?
Florida consists of large swaths of karst from carbonate rock, which means sinkholes are a very common occurrence here. There are three types of sinkholes, each with its own unique properties. They include:
- Dissolution sinkholes — These happen when rain and floodwaters seep into the cracks of limestone and slowly erode it away. Over time, ponds and wetlands will begin to form.
- Cover-subsidence sinkholes — This is a very slow process and occurs in areas where the top layers of soil are permeable and have sand. The erosion typically doesn’t go very deep, around one foot.
- Cover-collapse sinkholes — Most often the most damaging type of sinkhole. The sediment (often clay) slowly settles into a cavity and an arch begins to form underground. As the soil erodes away, the arch gets taller until the top of the arch collapses.
Dangers of Sinkholes
Sinkholes often take people by surprise and can bring with them serious hazards to both life and property. Some of the most dangerous aspects of sinkholes include:
- Structure collapse that injures the occupants or threatens to damage other nearby structures.
- Sinkholes in the yard can lead to damaged foundations of homes.
- A sinkhole in the road could lead to serious auto accidents.
- Nearby water tables can become contaminated as sediment and debris are washed into freshwater systems.
All types of sinkholes can pose a significant threat to public health and safety if proper steps are not taken to address the problem in time. For this reason, any homeowner is encouraged to have their home checked annually to look for warning signs on or around the property. This is especially important if you notice areas of the yard forming ponds, or cracks appear in the home’s walls or foundation.
Can We Predict Sinkholes?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If the sinkhole occurs naturally, the odds of predicting it are very low. It would take a lot of expensive equipment to monitor underground action. The fact is, it’s pretty much only NASA who has the equipment needed to predict sinkholes. Without this level of equipment and expertise, sinkholes are nearly impossible to predict unless there are obvious signs. But, by this time, it will likely be too late to do anything about it.
If the sinkhole is manmade, there is a little more experts can do to predict them, but it is still not an easy task, and the predictions are often limited. Since there is really no way for the average person to predict where a sinkhole may occur, the best we can rely on is knowledge of certain warning signs. The warning signs of sinkholes include:
- New cracks forming in the walls and foundations of buildings.
- Noticeable cracks forming on the Earth.
- New indentations in the ground. This is most easily noticed if they begin to collect water.
- Trees, fences, telephone poles, and other structures begin to tilt or lean.
- Doors and windows of buildings may be difficult to open or close as the building shifts.
Are There Sinkhole Disclosure Laws in Florida?
Sellers are required by Florida law to notify potential buyers if a sinkhole claim was made against the homeowner’s insurance and whether the funds were used to repair the structure. However, if you purchased your home brand new, you may want to look at whether the builder performed tests to determine if the property was developed in a sinkhole-prone area. If the builder withheld information about the possibility of sinkholes, you may want to reach out to a construction defect attorney to discuss the agreements you signed.
These laws were enacted by the Florida legislature to make sure that homes and other commercial structures are safe. These laws may seem simple, but the truth is that there are many complicated parts to them, and they can be difficult for a non-lawyer to understand. If you have any questions about these disclosure laws, you should contact an attorney who specializes in this field of law.
Are Sinkholes Covered by Insurance?
Each insurance policy is different, so you will need to review your policy to see what it will cover. Every Florida homeowners insurance company must at least “offer” sinkhole coverage. However, there is an additional premium involved, so if you only have basic coverage, you are probably not covered.
The caveat here is that even if they offer you the insurance, it may turn out that you are denied coverage. If there are known sinkholes in the area or the property has had a sinkhole in the past, you could be denied coverage.
If you didn’t purchase sinkhole coverage, you may still be covered under the “catastrophic ground cover collapse” clause. However, it must meet four criteria to qualify:
- The ground cover collapsed abruptly;
- The hole in the ground must be clearly visible;
- Foundational and structural damage is significant;
- The building has been condemned and vacated.
If the damage to the home doesn’t meet the above criteria, and you did not purchase additional sinkhole coverage, you may end up paying for the damage out-of-pocket. It is important to review the circumstances of your damage and the details of your policy with an experienced insurance claims attorney in order to determine if you may have a possible claim.
How Can I Report a Sinkhole in Florida?
If the sinkhole has caused significant injuries or property damage, you will need to report the incident to your insurance company as you would with any other damage. After you do, Florida law states that the insurance company must perform an evaluation of the property for damage. If the insurance company denies your claim, you can request a neutral evaluation from the Florida CFO’s office.
You can also voluntarily report a sinkhole to the Florida Geological Survey which maintains a database of incidents for research purposes. Additionally, you can search the database to see if your area has reported sinkholes in the past. This could help in determining the likelihood of a sinkhole forming on your property.
Speak to an Experienced Sinkhole Attorney in Tampa
Don’t assume that all sinkholes are the same. Some may require more attention than others. It’s always a good idea to talk to a professional about your situation. This may just mean that you need to get a second opinion.
When you talk to a lawyer, be sure to tell them everything that is known about the case. It could be possible that there is something that the original homeowner did wrong. For example, if a hole wasn’t filled in the first place, it could have been causing water damage that shouldn’t have been there.
If you do have sinkholes or other issues on your property, a good lawyer can help you plan the best course of action. It’s better to spend a few dollars on a lawyer than spend thousands later because you misdiagnosed a sinkhole and had to spend more money fixing it.
To speak to an experienced property insurance claims lawyer near you about your sinkhole damages, reach out to Darrigo & Diaz today. You will receive answers to your questions and legal guidance based on our decades of experience. Most importantly, your first appointment is always free, confidential, and with no obligation to work with us further.
Call (813) 774-3341 or contact us online to schedule your free case evaluation today.