Articles Posted in Sinkhole Damage

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As South Florida homeowners insurance claims attorneys, we are very familiar with sinkholes. Sinkhole damage is a common problem in Florida as many Floridians are aware. Folks moving to the area for retirement or purchasing vacation homes are learning a hard lesson about the havoc a sinkhole can reap.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, once the Florida legislature amended its sinkhole insurance coverage law in 2011, finding adequate coverage for sinkhole damage has proved difficult. Before 2011, however, getting compensation for your sinkhole claim was very easy. Now, the newspaper reports, insurance companies hire contractors who render favorable opinions for the insurance company, to the detriment of homeowners.

Despite the apparent difficulties, Florida homeowners should consider purchasing sinkhole coverage as an individual rider on their homeowner’s policy. Sinkhole coverage is an add-on to your policy, unlike catastrophic ground collapse which is covered by your standard homeowner’s policy. Sinkhole damage, not amounting to catastrophic ground collapse, usually causes cracks in foundations, walls, and floors. Also, the home can shift if the sinkhole opens deep enough. The problem with the amended law is that insurance companies, in particular, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, is no longer obligated to compensate homeowners adequately for their loss. Homes are losing their value because of sinkhole damage for which the insurance company refuses to reimburse. Continue reading →

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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. Continue reading →

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A sinkhole in Seffner continues to grow, threatening to swallow a nearby home duplex.  The sinkhole has grown by nearly eight feet since its initial discovery and shows no signs of slowing.  When the sinkhole first developed, it was estimated to be about 22 feet wide and 27 feet deep.  In just three days, the hole grew to 30 feet wide and 30 feet deep.  It is now about the height of a three story building and keeps growing.  It has now reached the edge of one of two buildings nearby, where residents have already been forced to evacuate.

Scared residents have cleared all of their personal belongings out of their homes and do not know whether they will ever be able to return.  This recent sinkhole comes two years after another sinkhole developed in Seffner.  A 37 year old man was swallowed by the massive, sudden sinkhole as he slept in his bed.  This sinkhole was later filled and stabilized, only to reopen this past August.  It sits just two miles from this week’s sinkhole.

The South Florida homeowners’ insurance lawyers at Greenberg, Stone, and Urbano are saddened to hear of this most recent sinkhole and anticipate it may raise further insurance issues for those in the area.  Homeowners’ insurance companies fought the coverage of sinkhole related claims for some time, only accepting them after much litigation.  Our homeowners’ insurance attorneys are here to assist homeowners with their sinkhole and other natural disaster related claims, providing experienced and dedicated representation. Continue reading →

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Citizens Property Insurance currently faces a serious lawsuit problem. In recent years, over 12,000 policyholders have filed suit against Citizens, the state run insurer, to obtain payment for their denied claims. The cost of defending these suits is rising, reaching over $21 million in three months alone.

Much litigation has arisen out of so-called sinkhole alley, the section of Florida that includes Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando, and counties. This portion of the state rests on porous lime stone beds. Our Florida homeowners’ insurance lawyers understand how Citizens has consistently denied insurance claims stemming from sinkholes, and their legal costs just on sinkhole litigation alone have doubled in just one year. The agency spent around 944,345 per month in 2012. This number jumped to $2,050,106 in 2013. Now, an additional 2,100 homeowners have filed suit against Citizens, bringing their combined legal bills to more than $4.4 million a month, or an average of $2,100 per sinkhole claim.

To cope with the mounting lawsuits, Citizens has launched a twofold attack in the courtroom and at the Capitol. The agency has taken the following actions:
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Insurance regulators from the State of Florida have announced the approval of a 10.8 percent rate increase for policies underwritten by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which will help the company increase its campaign to force hundreds of thousands of homeowners to look for home insurance within the private market. Simultaneously, some private insurance companies have started sending proposals to underwrite about 210,000 homeowners currently with Citizens.

Why Reduce The Size Of Citizens?

The Governors’ Office has been pushing for Citizens to reduce the size of its portfolio because they fear that despite the healthy financial surplus that the company has been able to build ($6.2 billion) over the last few years of benevolent weather (no significant number of hurricane related claims since Wilma in 2005) it may not be able to respond to a catastrophic hurricane season, leaving the tax payers to pick up the bill…

However, as worthy as the reason may seem, it is the method that insurance authorities are using that is bringing most criticism. For example, the company has come up with the idea of giving out up $350 million in loans from the above mentioned surplus to private insurance companies willing to take policies from Citizens and keep them underwritten for at least 10 years. However, as pointed out by State Representative Frank Artiles, R-Miami in a recent letter, some of the private insurance companies willing to underwrite policies from Citizens have “troubled financial records” themselves, which could leave the tax payers to foot the bill in case of a catastrophic hurricane season as much as if the policies were kept within Citizens, not to mention the loss of the money lent to them under the surplus loan program.

No Guarantee of Low Rates

It is worth mentioning that despite Citizens’ concerted effort to push policyholder out of its mist with continued increased rates as the ones just approved, there is not guarantee that policyholders moving to the private market will see lower rates elsewhere. In fact, Citizens is the only company mandated by law not to raise rates more than 10 percent annually. Therefore, despite the initial low rate offer of those “interested” private insurance companies, nothing stops them from hiking their rates to as much as the want the next year upon renewal. So far, the companies participating in the take out program are: Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, Homeowners Choice P&C Insurance Company, Southern Fidelity P&C, Southern Oak Insurance Company and American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida.

Homeowners receiving these letters will be automatically shifted to one of these companies if they do not opt out by November 6, 2012. It would be in these homeowners best interest to check the financial records of the company they are being sent to so as to make sure they are not being sent to one that is in financial distress or has a history of unusual increases of rates every year.
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A Winterhaven homeowner has been unsuccessfully battling his insurance company for months in the hope that they will pay for the repairs of damages that a sinkhole in his front yard has caused to his house. According to newschief.com, Gene Albritton’s house has been shifting into a depression on his front yard and as a result his walls and floors have been cracking.

Mr. Albritton’s house was built in 1956 in an area with soft ground that can be prone to sinkholes. In order to make the area suitable for building, the developer covered the mucky soil with two feet of dirt. However, the developer did not use only dirt: they also used tree stumps, debris and many other stuff that in time tend to rot, thus making the soil lose the consistency that compacting initially gave it.

As a result, the whole area suffers from similar problems: Mr. Albritton’s neighbors from across the street, Lynn and Brent Fogel, discovered similar damages in their house in 2009. However, their insurance company paid the maximum damage, allowing them to repair all damages. Similarly, Polk County authorities had to deal with similar issues caused by the same gelatinous soil under Avenue O, which runs about 30 feet from Mr. Albritton’s property. As a result, county workers had to dig out and remove that layer mucky soft soil which ran 8 to 10 feet deep in order to repair and repave the road. To do that work, heavy machinery was used and the commotion caused by the operation of such heavy equipment may have caused further damage to Mr. Albritton’s house.

Insurance Company Refuses To Pay

Yet, despite the obvious damages to the house, Mr. Albritton’s insurance company refuses to pay for the repairs. Why? Because of the way Mr. Albritton’s policy is worded…

Mr. Albritton was insured in 2010 by a company called National Risk Solutions and its associated company, GeoVera Insurance, with a policy that included sinkhole coverage. However, when the policy was renewed a year later, it was amended to exclude sinkhole coverage, although catastrophic ground cover collapse was included. The problem with Mr. Albritton’s case is that the new coverage requires a hole at least 5 feet deep and 5 feet wide to be appreciable and despite the damage to his house, there is no visible hole on the ground.

For your information, Florida Law requires homeowner insurance policies to cover catastrophic ground cover collapse, while sinkhole coverage has to be purchased separately. Please note that while a catastrophic ground collapse is defined by law as “a geological activity that results in the abrupt collapse and clearly visible depression of the ground cover, which in turn causes structural damage to buildings and their foundations to the point that the building is condemned by the government”, a sinkhole is defined as “a landform created by the subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata is dissolved by groundwater”.

We have frequently found homeowners that thought they were covered for sinkhole coverage when in fact, they were not.
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