In recent years, the number of sink hole claims has skyrocketed. Florida has been particularly affected by this natural phenomenon. The overwhelming number of sink hole claims has been difficult on insurance companies, causing many companies to avoid covering homes in Florida. The reason that Florida has more sink holes than other places in the United States is that the conditions in Florida are favorable for sink holes.
What is a Sink Hole?
A sink hole is a hole that forms in the ground due to a collapse of the underground material holding the surface layer in place. Sink holes vary greatly in size. Some are tiny pockets, while others are massive canyons. Sink holes can form over time or can occur very suddenly. There have been many instances of sink holes forming suddenly and causing major damage to property, injury to people or animals, and even death.
Causes of Sink Holes
Although sink holes form all over the world, the ground in Florida is especially conducive to sink holes. The ground in Florida is made up of limestone and dolomite. Both of these materials dissolve quickly when exposed to acidic liquid. Since rainwater is slightly acidic, rainwater will dissolve this porous rock over time. Warm weather also contributes to the formation of sink holes.
There is some debate as to whether holes in the ground that have been formed by other causes are considered to be sink holes. Abandoned mines, deteriorated sewer pipes, and collapsing underground clay have all caused collapses of surface material. While the consequences are the same no matter what the cause, homeowners that are purchasing sink hole coverage should verify the insurance company’s definition of a sinkhole. This way the homeowner can be sure that sink hole claims will be covered in the event of a sink hole collapse.
Types of Sink Holes
There are two basic types of sink holes, cover subsidence sink holes and cover collapse sink holes. Cover subsidence sink holes are caused by a gradual degradation of the materials below the surface, resulting in a depression. In the case of cover collapse sink holes, there is empty space below the surface cover. Excess weight being put on this area will cause the surface cover to cave in, resulting in an often large and detrimental sink hole. Sometimes a sink hole will form under the bed of a stream, and the water will disappear. This is called a disappearing stream, but is the result of sink hole activity. Some sink holes fill with water.
Is Sink Hole Activity Increasing?
The perception that sink hole activity in Florida has increased in recent years is due to a number of factors. Population growth coupled with the heightened speed at which information spreads have caused more sink hole activity to be reported and documented. Although actual activity may not have increased, the general public is instantly made aware when sink hole activity has occurred. This causes the possibly false observation that sink hole activity is on the rise.
Population growth has also caused an increase in the number of homes and businesses. When a sink hole forms, there is a greater likelihood that a home or business will be impacted. This is a major factor in the recent increase of sink hole claims.
Laws Regarding Sinkholes
In 1981, the state of Florida began to require homeowner’s insurance providers to offer extended coverage that would protect homeowners in the event of a sink hole claim. A revision was later added that required the insurance providers to offer sink hole claims coverage as a part of the standard homeowner’s policy. Since that time, thousands of sink hole claims have been filed with insurance companies.
In 2011, Governor Rick Scott signed the Property Insurance Cost Control Bill into law. The passing of this law means that Florida insurance companies are no longer required to cover sink hole claims as part of standard homeowner’s insurance. This is beneficial to insurance companies, as it allows the company to charge an extra fee for sink hole coverage. This allows insurance companies to offer cheaper standard policies, and enables smaller insurance companies to operate without fear of the costly damage that sink holes can cause. While this law mitigates the cost to insurance companies, it puts a greater burden on homeowners.
Although sink hole coverage can be provided at an optional cost, catastrophic ground cover collapse is still required as part of a standard homeowner’s insurance policy. This can be confusing, and homeowners should be sure that all portions of the homeowner’s insurance are understood. In the event that an insurance company does not cover a sink hole claim that the policy holder believes should be covered, there may be legal options. Contacting an attorney may help homeowners to understand the options available.
“2012 Florida Statutes.” The Florida Senate. State of Florida, n.d. Web. 11 Sep 2013. <http://www.flsenate.gov/laws/statutes/2012/627.706>.
“Florida Gov. Scott Signs Property Insurance Cost Control Bill.” Insurance Journal. Wells Media Group, 17 May 2011. Web. 11 Sep 2013. <http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2011/05/17/198940.htm>.
“Sinkholes.” Florida Department of Environmental Protection. State of Florida, 13 Aug 2013. Web. 11 Sep 2013. < http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/geologictopics/sinkhole.htm>.