Sinkholes are part of life in Florida. The limestone sediment beneath the surface of the earth dissolves quickly in water. Once the limestone dissolves, the sand and loam wash away, leaving a gaping home. It is hard to forget the incredible story of Jeffrey Bush who died in 2013 when he was swallowed by the earth after his bedroom fell into an enormous sinkhole. That same sinkhole reopened a little more than two years later. No one reported injuries or property damage this time. Homeowner’s insurance attorneys Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano understand the dangers sinkholes present and the insurance company’s obligation to cover those losses.
The Florida legislature recognized that sinkholes are an inevitable, albeit unpredictable, part of life for Floridians. Toward that end, state statutes obligate homeowner’s insurance companies to cover losses resulting from sinkhole damage. The law mandates that an insurance company verify that a sinkhole caused the damages after the homeowner makes a claim. The insurance company can deny the claim if it determines through its investigation that there in no sinkhole damage. Otherwise, the insurer must undertake testing to see whether the ground can be stabilized, the home foundation repaired, and the building stabilized. The insurance company must fix the damage according to the recommendations of the engineer and geologist engaged by the insurance company to survey the damage. The policyholder has an obligation to enter into agreements for repair of the damage within 90 days from the date that the insurance company concluded that a sinkhole caused the damage.
Florida law provides for a neutral evaluator to analyze the sinkhole problem if the parties cannot agree on the safest means to shore up the hole. The question of neutral evaluators come up recently in the case of Roker v. Tower Hill Preferred Ins. Co. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals decided the issue in 2015. In Roker, the plaintiff gave the appropriate notice to the insurance company, who, in turn, hired a subcontractor to examine the damage. The subcontractor determined a sinkhole caused the damage and issued a report as to the proper method of repairing the damage. Tower Hill informed Roker that she needed to hire the subcontractor to repair the damage using the method described. Roker hired a company to render a second opinion regarding the best means to repair the sinkhole damage. Roker’s contractor disagreed with the insurance company’s subcontractor.
Roker hired the company that gave her the estimate to repair the damage. She submitted an invoice to Towe Hill. The contract price was much greater than the estimate the insurance company’s subcontractor quoted. Tower Hill denied Roker’s claim and asked for a neutral party to perform the testing and quote a price. The neutral substantially agreed with the insurance company. The insurance company then told Roker they would cover her losses to the extent of the estimate they obtained.
Roker declined and sued Tower Hill. Tower Hill defended by arguing that her insurance policy and Florida law required Roker to hire the company’s experts. According to the court, Tower Hill was wrong. Nothing in Florida law makes an insured hire the insurance company’s experts to repair a sinkhole. The court took note that three experts had slightly differing opinions as to the best way to fix the damage. The parties can rely upon a neutral engineer, but it is non-binding. One must be cautious not to reject the neutral’s opinion out of hand because if the homeowner sues and loses, then the homeowner owes costs and attorneys’ fees to the insurance company.
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Contact Miami homeowner’s insurance attorneys Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano if you have questions about your insurance company’s obligation to cover your losses from sinkhole damage. The Miami Herald rated our firm a top litigation firm in South Florida. Moreover, Martindale Hubbell gave us an AV rating. Call us today at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 to find out why. Make your appointment today for a free consultation with lawyers who have a combined 130 years of experience fighting for others.