Sinkhole attorney fields questions on what to do when problems arise

Who is liable for sinkhole damage and damage from disasters?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This past weekend’s massive sinkhole swallowing up homes in Land O’ Lakes has a lot of people asking if this same thing could ever happen to them.  Whether you’re worried about your current home, or a future purchase local sinkhole attorney Amy Boggs says it’s important to protect one of your biggest investments.

“The fear of living in a sinkhole home is very real,” said Boggs who represents policy holders dealing with their insurance companies following a sinkhole or other disaster.

She says when a major sinkhole opens up anywhere in Tampa Bay her existing clients start calling.

“My phone lights up from my clients saying hey, this could happen to me and how do I protect myself from something like that.”

The answer Boggs says can be tricky especially in light of a series of 2011 changes to Florida law impacting sinkhole coverage.  Homeowners are now required to show structural damage to their home before their sinkhole insurance will kick in.

It’s like saying we’re not going to pay for a cavity, we’re going to wait until you have a root canal until we fix the problem,” said Boggs of the current law in Florida.

That leaves many homeowners left ignoring possible issues under their home due to the high cost of repairs which can run into the 10’s of thousands of dollars.

We’re seeing homeowners living on active sinkhole because unless they have damage, they have no coverage.”

And Boggs says that could potentially spell legal action especially if the problem grows swallowing up your neighbor’s home.

“If you’re the homeowner who didn’t get repairs, you could face liability,” Boggs said, adding “it depends.”

10Investigates tracked down a 2012 engineer’s report showing confirmed sinkhole activity under the home recommending subsurface grouting to fill in voids and stabilize the ground.

The homeowner instead went with the recommendation from a second engineer calling for a less expensive repair called underpinning which stabilizes only the home’s structure.

Bogg says in her review of public records it appears a final report was never filed by the homeowner’s insurance company as required by Florida law.

“If a carrier pays for a sinkhole loss they have to file the report in public records.   What we see was not the full sinkhole report.”

And for those of you thinking about buying a home where sinkhole activity was previously discovered Boggs says it’s up to you to do your homework.

“Start looking for EVERYTHING. I want the original report, and pick up the phone… call the engineer.”

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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