In Florida, sinkholes can occur at any given time. Sinkhole losses are incredibly costly and are nearly impossible to prepare for. But did you know that your homeowner’s insurance may not protect you from all damages related to sinkholes?
A recent change in Florida law requires authorized insurers to cover “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” but damage caused by a sinkhole may not be covered by your policy, because the law defines catastrophic ground cover collapse differently from sinkholes.
Florida law defines a sinkhole as “a land form created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. A sinkhole may form by collapse into subterranean voids created by dissolution (the dissolving) of limestone or dolostone or by the subsidence as these strata are dissolved.”
“Catastrophic ground cover collapse” is defined as “geological activity that results in all of the following: 1). The abrupt collapse of the ground cover; 2). A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye; 3). Structural damage to the building including the foundation; and 4). The insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the government agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.”
This means that if your home is damaged by sinkhole activity, but does not meet all four criteria for catastrophic ground cover collapse – for instance, you may have foundation cracks, but the home is still livable – your insurance may not pay for the damage if you do not have sinkhole coverage.
All insurance companies licensed to do business must offer sinkhole coverage, usually as an addendum or rider to an existing policy, and for an additional premium charge. However, insurance companies may require an inspection before extending coverage. If sinkhole activity is present on the property or within a certain distance of the property to be insured, the insurance company may decline coverage.
Why is Florida so prone to sinkholes? The scientific reason, according to Clint Kromhout, a geologist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, is that “the bulk of Florida’s peninsula is made up carbonate rock (limestone and dolostone) overlain by variable thicknesses and mixtures of sand and clay (i.e., overburden). Carbonate rocks store and transmit groundwater. Through a slow chemical process these carbonate rocks may dissolve, resulting in karst terrain (topography). Karst terrains are characterized by sinkholes, caves (wet and dry), springs, disappearing/reappearing streams, and other land surface depressions all of which are commonly found throughout Florida.”
Sounds very technical, but what he’s basically saying is that our state is built on top of what seems to be very hard swiss cheese. At least it’s beautiful here, right?
Because you can’t really be prepared for sinkhole activity, we have some recommendations for how to mitigate losses and understand your insurance coverages.
1) Call us at Chapman Insurance to discuss your coverage options to ensure that your home is fully protected.
2) Check out this PDF from the State of Florida CFO on the differences between sinkholes and CGCC. It also lists some pointers for filing a sinkhole claim. We recommend printing this handout and storing it with your other insurance documents.
3) This video from Chapman Insurance carrier Tower Hill Insurance Group explains how catastrophic ground cover collapse is covered by homeowners’ policies. It’s very clear and easy to understand, so we highly suggest you take a few minutes to watch.