If you are a Florida homeowner, you are in prime sinkhole territory, and you may have purchased sinkhole insurance.
However, a claim for sinkhole damage can become complicated and is not always successful. If your insurer denies your claim, you have other options to pursue, among which is the Neutral Evaluation Program.
According to U.S. Geological Survey findings, as much as 40% of all the land in our country is susceptible to the formation of sinkholes. These are depressions in the earth’s crust that occur due to natural events such as earthquakes, erosion or excess groundwater. Sinkholes can also develop because of mining, construction or drilling activities that weaken layers of the earth’s crust.
Although some sinkholes occur without warning, there are usually some red flags that homeowners should not ignore:
Cracks that develop around doors or windows
Doors and windows becoming difficult to open
Cracks in your walkway, driveway or the nearby street
Depressions that develop on your property
Unusual amount of sediment in drinking water
If you think these issues signal impending sinkhole activity, contact your insurance company. Your policy should cover damages to your home, property and any personal belongings kept inside the building.
Under Florida law, the insurance company that receives a claim for sinkhole loss must arrange an inspection of the property to determine whether sinkhole activity is the cause of the damage. If you and the insurance company disagree on a plan to carry out repairs, or if your insurance company denies your claim altogether, you must demand testing. If testing confirms sinkhole loss, you have the right to request a neutral evaluation as performed by a professional geologist or engineer trained in alternative dispute resolution.
The Florida Department of Financial Services has a list of state-certified evaluators from which to choose. The evaluator will render an opinion and recommend repairs. Keep in mind that the results of the evaluation are non-binding and both you and your insurer can pursue other legal options to reach a final solution to the sinkhole matter.