04 Mar Florida Sinkholes and Your Home – Part I
According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, sinkholes, a common feature of Florida landscape, are one of many kinds of karst landforms, which include caves, disappearing streams, springs, and underground drainage systems. Karst is a generic term which refers to the type of terrain produced by erosion processes such as chemical weathering and dissolution of limestone or dolomite, the two most common carbonate rocks in Florida. Florida limestone is porous, and when acidic rainwater seeps through the strata, limestone dissolves and is carried away. Over much time, this persistent erosional process has created extensive underground voids and drainage systems in much of the carbonate rocks throughout the state. And the collapse of overlying sediments into the underground cavities produces sinkholes.
However, when your home and your life are threatened, like that of the Jeffery Bush family recently in Tampa, the significance of the geologic origins of sinkholes is greatly diminished. The Tampa Bay Times reports, as Bush slept last Thursday, a sinkhole opened beneath his bedroom and sucked him and the furniture into the ground. Hearing screams for help, his brother rushed in to try to save him but became entrapped in the sinkhole, too. A deputy responding to a 911 call found Jeremy in the churning hole and pulled him to safety, but Jeffery was lost.
The following Sunday, the family gathered across the street and watched as demolition of the home swept away the remainder of the house, glad to have salvaged few precious personal items. The backhoe operator combed for treasured objects. They cried and applauded when he unearthed the Bible of their late matriarch, who, between its aged pages, had tucked family baptism certificates.
Later Sunday afternoon, Jared Mellick welcomed Mark Nation of The Nation Law Firm to the In the House Show. Read the following insights as they discuss Florida sinkholes – detection, investigation, insurance and legislature.
Jared: I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but this week in Tampa, a huge sinkhole swallowed a house, and a gentleman in his bedroom actually fell down into the sinkhole and died. So I wanted to talk today about sinkholes. I’ve invited a special guest, a good friend of mine, to come on the show. Mark Nation from The Nation Law Firm, Mark welcome to the show. It’s a horrible story isn’t?
Mark: Yes, it sure is. In fact, I was in trial this week on a sinkhole case. One of my clients has a sinkhole at her house, and the insurance company denied the claim. The claim was also over in Tampa. The interesting thing about the man’s house in Tampa is that the whole house didn’t cave in. The floor underneath the bedroom did; but the house was pretty much ok. My sources tell me that this house had been previously investigated, and they had submitted a sinkhole claim. The insurance company looked at it, sent out their engineers – an engineering firm that I see all the time in claim denials – and said there was no risk of sinkholes at the place. And now we have this…
Jared: Wow. Lately I have seen exponentially a lot more sinkhole types of claims and cases. I assume you have as well.
Mark: Oh yes. I have probably close to a hundred right now, open. The one this past week is just a classic example. My clients have a house that was 34 years old, and one night there was a loud crack out in the garage. In this crack you can literally see from the inside to the outside of the garage through the stair-step cracking. The insurance company sent an engineering firm out who said not to worry, it is all caused by the water softener. Now the problem is, the water softener had been there since January 1992 and had stopped working three months before this. We have stair-step cracking around the entire house; the trusses are being pulled out of alignment, and we now have bulging walls. All of this occurred in the first three to four months after this big crack in the garage. And yet the insurance company during trial insists it’s the drain field. Then Friday, just after this other tragedy happened, they moved for a mistrial because the jurors were getting all emotional. Ultimately a mistrial was granted, and we are going to have to retry the case.
Jared: Wow. I deal with homeowners’ claims on a different level; I do a lot of storm-related work. I have to know a lot about storm damage to be a roofer in Florida, and I’ve seen a lot of denials by insurance companies for that. But something many of my customers have been talking about over the last couple of years is how a lot of the policies now are excluding coverage for sinkholes. Is that correct?
Coming soon, Part II of Florida Sinkholes and Your Home and Mark’s answer as he and Jared continue to discuss sinkhole issues.
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