The Sinkhole State

Our beautiful state is well known for lots of things – hurricanes, alligators, oranges, just to name a few. But what the average person may not know is that there are more sinkholes reported in Florida than in any other state in the country. Thousands of them develop each year. The region’s geology is responsible for the large number of sinkholes. The state is made up of porous carbonate rock (limestone and dolostone) that stores huge amounts of groundwater in underground aquifers. The slightly acidic water that falls from the clouds and filters down through the soil layer into the rock slowly dissolves the limestone. Sinkholes typically form when the soil layer (made of sand and clay) beneath an area destabilizes and can no longer support the weight above it.

Sinkholes are extremely common in Hernando County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County and Polk County, but they can and do form anywhere in the state. Since May and June are typically dry months with the year’s lowest groundwater level, this is often peak sinkhole time, triggered by heavy downpours, drought conditions followed by heavy rainfall and tropical storms. Sinkholes are also very common in January and February when farmers pump groundwater onto crops to protect them from freezing. Other common actions by humans that can cause sinkholes are well drilling, excavating, creating landfills, breaking water lines and pounding or blasting during construction. Urban construction, coupled with limestone depths of less than 200 feet, contributes to many sinkholes, as does the aggressive pumping out of groundwater to meet the water needs of Florida’s growing population, which is expected to hit 20 million residents this year.

The vast majority of sinkholes give some warning, so human injury is quite rare, with damage usually limited to property. Signs of a developing sinkhole include:

  • Cracks in walls, floors, driveways, etc.
  • Sediment in your water supply
  • Slumping or sagging fence posts or trees
  • Doors and windows that don’t close properly
  • Small ponds of rainfall where water has not collected previously.
Additionally, new technology is available that uses satellites and drones to detect changes in ground elevations over time. Such changes may indicate an area’s vulnerability for sinkholes.

Called Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), this technique compares repeat radar observations to measure very subtle deformation of the Earth's surface. This tool is helpful as part of a more complete observation, since not all sinkholes have deformation prior to collapse. Although sinkholes are not occurring more frequently as of late, there is evidence that they are affecting more people. From 2006 to 2010, the number of sinkhole claims to Florida insurance companies tripled to almost 6,700. There must be structural damage to a home for a policyholder to claim a loss from a sinkhole.

If you have sinkhole coverage, your insurance company will probably order a geological report to establish the cause of the damage. This report may suggest how to prevent future damage. If the testing confirms that a sinkhole was the cause, your insurance policy should pay for the testing and repairs, minus any applicable deductibles. By law, you are entitled to take part in a neutral evaluation program if you and your insurance company disagree on whether damage was caused by a sinkhole.

If you have filed a sinkhole claim and it has been denied, you are entitled to get a second opinion from an independent professional who can even review the insurance company’s own report that may be subject to an entirely different interpretation. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski Law has been the firm to trust for legal issues involving insurance bad faith litigation for decades. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling (305) 643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.

DISCLAIMER: Any information about past verdicts and settlements is based on the unique facts of each case. Every case is different, and future cases may not achieve the same or similar results. These amounts reflect the gross recovery (before attorneys’ fees and expenses are deducted).

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