By now, you’ve most likely seen the stories about the large sinkhole that opened in Dunedin, Florida this week.  The Dupre family was awakened early Wednesday morning to what sounded like someone noisily attempting to break into their house.  Upon inspection, the homeowners were shocked to see that their entire back porch was sliding into a rapidly expanding sinkhole.  The family, along with several neighboring households, were all immediately evacuated by the police and soon, both this home and the adjacent house were officially condemned by the city.  As of this posting, the sinkhole has expanded to over 90 feet wide and almost 60 feet deep.

Those are the facts you’ve heard thus far from the media.  What you probably haven’t heard is the long series of events which led up to this disaster.  Approximately two years ago, Michel Dupre noticed cracking to his home and contacted his insurance company – Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Yes – that’s right – good ole’ Citizens again!).  After testing the property and realizing that sinkhole activity was causing damage to the Dupre residence, Citizens tried to force the family to accept minimalistic repairs to their home.  The repair method mandated by Citizens only consisted of injecting grout into the soil beneath the home and made no allowance for any actual stabilization of the home.  Insiders in the field will tell you that “repairing” a sinkhole home by grouting alone will fail to fix the problem over fifty percent of the time and will almost always cause additional damage to the home.

Take a look at the attached Standard Penetration Testing (SPT) boring logs from Citizens’ investigation of the Dupre home.  When testing a property for sinkhole activity, engineers check the density of the soil by striking the drill bit with a 140 pound hammer and then noting how many blows it takes to drive the drill bit down 12 inches.  (For instance, on SPT boring #1 you can see that at 15 feet below the surface it took 3 blows of the hammer to drive the drill bit down 12 inches).  If you look closely at SPT boring log #3, you will note that there is a “WR” condition from approximately 25 feet below surface to 70 feet below surface.  WR stands for Weight of Rod.  In order for the engineer to record a WR condition, the drill bit must actually FALL UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT without even being hit by the hammer.  As you can see, beneath the Dupre residence, the drill bit fell OVER 45 FEET – which indicates that Citizens knew there was at least 45 feet of “nothingness” below the Dupre house!  In spite of this finding, Citizens’ engineer only categorized the damage to the Dupre home as “slight” and noted that there was very little possibility of any further damage.  (Bet he wishes he could take that back!)

The homeowners (understandably) had severe reservations about the minimalistic grouting program being pushed upon them by Citizens and therefore the homeowners hired engineers and other professionals to help encourage Citizens to properly repair the home.  In spite of the clear evidence that Citizens’ mandated repair would be insufficient to repair the home and to protect the Dupres, Citizens refused to listen to the Dupre’s experts for over two years.  Now you may have heard in the media that Citizens, “offered to pay the family $90,000 to repair the home”, but that is absolutely false.  In fact, Citizens has only offered to pay the Dupres $1,500 (not a misprint – One Thousand Five Hundred Dollars) despite the all of the evidence (even from its own engineers) of the true cost to repair the home.

As I’ve referenced in previous posts, Citizens has spent over 100 million dollars fighting insurance claims and absolutely refuses to make any payment whatsoever on sinkhole claims.  After two years of fighting for coverage, the Dupre family had no option but to let Citizens have its way with their home.  After two days of letting Citizens stubbornly pump “grout” beneath their home….you guessed it!  (And yes, that is a swimming pool you see below being squeezed down into the hole.)

Clearly, the Dupres are now going to “have their way” with Citizens – hopefully a jury of homeowners will help decide Citizens’ fate.  But the question then arises – what about the neighbors?  At least two homes have now been condemned and several others have incurred grevious damage as the direct result of Citizens’ actions -what recourse do these neighbors have?  If they have sinkhole coverage, then these homeowners could look to their own policies for loss coverage, but why should these other carriers have to bear the burden of Citizens’ arrogance?  What if the neighbors do not have sinkhole coverage?  Unless the damage to their home mandates condemnation (and thereby activating coverage under the Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse portion of their policy), these homeowners would have no recourse and would have to make any repairs themselves.  Thanks Citizens!

Hopefully Mr. Scott and the rest of our elected officials in Tallahassee will take this situation to heart and will enact some real reforms at Citizens.  If not, the voters of Florida should hold them accountable on election day.  Because, who knows – you could be Citizens’ next victim.

Over the past year or so, we have been getting an increasing number of calls from property owners who continue to experience sinkhole damage to their property – even after their property has been repaired by the insurance company!  The factual circumstances are almost always the same – the insurance company mandates that the insured repair the sinkhole damage pursuant to the recommendations of the insurance company’s experts and then, after these supposed repairs are completed, the property continues to incur new damage.  Although sometimes this new damage appears immediately after the insurance company’s repairs are completed, many times the damage appears years later.  In almost every scenario, after the insured contacts the insurance company regarding this damage, the insurance company’s expert issues a quick report saying that the damage – if the expert even acknowledges the damage – is not from sinkhole activity and the claim is then summarily denied.

Many property owners do not realize that if the insurance company repairs the property pursuant to the insurance company’s recommended repair method, the insurance company must stand behind that repair method and must continue to repair the property – regardless of the cost – until the property is fully remediated.  The law on this process is clear – if the insurance company mandates that a property owner perform the insurance company’s sinkhole repairs to the property, the insurance company must continue to pay the cost of the repairs until the property is fully remediated or, if the insurance company gives up on repairing the home after beginning the process, the insurance company must issue a check for policy limits to the property owner without deduction for monies already spent towards the repair! 

Always know that you have rights against your insurance company and that you do not have to accept whatever remedy the insurance company may try to force upon you.  Clearly, it is important to have your claim reviewed by an experienced insurance attorney who can explain your options and, if necessary, zealously pursue your claim against the insurance company.

Over the past several years, many homeowners in Florida have had the misfortune of incurring damage to their property as the result of sinkhole activity. For many homeowners, the headaches and inconvenience caused by having to undergo the initial repair of this damage turned out to only be the beginning of the battle.

In almost every claim, when an insurance company agrees to repair an insured’s property, the insurance company will only agree to provide coverage for the repair protocol set forth by its chosen expert. Not surprisingly, the insurance company’s chosen expert will usually choose the least expensive repair method for the home. (It goes without saying that, were the expert to recommend a more complete repair method, he would not be the insurance company’s “chosen expert” for very long!) Faced with the insurance company’s mandate, the homeowner often agrees to allow the insurance company to repair the home pursuant to the insurance company’s chosen method.

The problem which has now arisen for numerous property owners is that the repair method mandated by the insurance company is insufficient to fully repair the property. Even though the insurance company’s version of the repairs have been completed, the property owner continues to incur damage to the home as the result of the sinkhole activity. Unfortunately, when this additional damage is pointed out to the insurance company, the carrier will deny any further repair to the property and state that the issue has been resolved – regardless of the existence of this new damage.

Fortunately, these property owners continue to have rights under their policies of insurance. Under Florida law, if an insurance carrier mandates that an insured repair his property pursuant to the insurance company’s chosen repair method, the insurance company must fully warrant those repairs. In other words, if the insurance company’s chosen repair fails to fully solve the problem, the insurance company is responsible to pay for any additional repairs necessary in order to bring the property to its pre-loss condition.