LAND O' LAKES, Fla. -- A Land O' Lakes family whose house backs up to the massive sinkhole that opened nearly a month ago thought they were finally about to collect on their insurance.
But, it turns out the condemnation report on their property was a mistake.
At issue - would you feel safe living in a house backing up that massive sinkhole in Land o' Lakes? For the Denzik family - the answer was no.
They've since moved out - hoping their insurance policy will cover the house. And for a few hours - they thought they'd finally gotten the demolition order to make that happen. That is until they found out Pasco County had made a mistake.
“It was a simple misunderstanding. Simple mistake. I own it,” said Assistant County Administrator Kevin Guthrie.
How did it happen?
It turns out the orange sticker on the Denzik house that warns “enter at your own risk" looks an awful lot like the orange sticker the county issues for demolition.
So when workers recently counted-up the condemned properties they saw the sticker and mistakenly included the Denzik house on Canal Place.
Guthrie says he can sympathize. “I always try to put myself in our residents’ shoes. And I tell you, I wouldn't feel safe with a 250-foot sinkhole in my backyard,” he said.
“If it were me, I'd be leaving and would be looking for some sort of help under the policy as well,” said Mike Ludwig, who owns Strategic Insurance Services in Clearwater.
Ludwig says the approval for demolition is one of four key legal requirements to collect on most catastrophic ground collapse insurance claims.
“That would be the main trigger that everybody will be looking for to say, great now I can leave my house. I've been told that I have to do so for the safety and well-being of my family,” said Ludwig.
County officials say the Denziks were disappointed and confused by the mistake, but they haven't given up.
They're working with a private engineering firm, taking ground measurements, core samples, and preparing a report for the county.
“If the engineer finds that, look I think this is an issue, then that will go to the building officials and the building official will make the final call whether to condemn the property,” said Guthrie.
Insurance experts say this could eventually become a test case that changes sinkhole laws in Florida.
Perhaps, said Ludwig, three out of four criteria should be enough to settle a claim, rather than forcing someone to stay in the house when they feel their very lives are at risk.
Guthrie says Pasco County is now working on a plan to issue placards with different colors in emergencies to help them more easily differentiate between properties deemed dangerous and those which have been condemned.
OF SINKHOLES CLAIMED BY LAND O LAKES SINKHOLE SINKHOLE STILL 7, NOT 8 AFTER COUNTY ADMITS ERROR.