Florida law defines sinkhole activity, at least for the purpose of providing insurance coverage associated with it. The definition itself, like anything else subject to the law-making process, may not measure exactly with the scientific definition. The difference between sinkhole activity (the insurance definition) and the definition used by scientists often serves as a basis of conflict between property owners and their insurers.
As found at Section 627.706, Florida Statutes, "sinkhole" means a landform created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater.
" Sinkhole activity," which causes sinkholes, means settlement or systematic weakening of the earth supporting such property only when such settlement or systematic weakening results from movement or raveling of soils, sediments, or rock materials into subterranean voids created by the effect of water on a limestone or similar rock formation. Under most insurance policies, sinkhole activity will not meet the definition of a "sinkhole loss" unless the subsidence results in "structural damage." When writing the statute, Florida lawmakers left the definition of what they mean by "structural damage" undefined, opening the door to disputes between homeowners and their insurance companies.
Is Your Sinkhole a Cover-Collapse or a Cover Subsidence?
When investigations to identify a sinkhole are performed by a licensed engineering firm, a determination will be made as to whether the underlying rock beneath a property is dissolving, causing the underlying soils to move and lose support of the structure upon it. Unlike the Florida sinkhole activity reported in the news, most sinkholes do not cause the catastrophic damage or large open holes on the surface. Instead, most sinkhole activity and sinkhole property losses result in the shifting of the soil in a manner to cause a subtle movement at the surface. The more dramatic, open cavity sinkholes are called "cover-collapse" sinkholes, while the slower moving sinkhole activity is called "cover subsidence" sinkhole activity. The primary issue to understand is that there need not be a large, open hole at the surface to call it a sinkhole, under Florida law.
To learn more about the Florida state law definitions of sinkhole activity and the different points of view taken by insurance companies, please contact Corless Barfield Trial Group at 813-498-1623.