There are two categories of damage caused by soil subsidence associated with sinkhole activity. These include the damage to the soil and underlying rock, and the repair to the property on the land. Under Florida law, once sinkhole activity has been identified as a cause of the damage to the property, an insurer shall pay to stabilize the land and building and repair the foundation.
Underpinning Structure and Grouting the Land
In repairing sinkhole damage to stabilize a home and repair the foundation, it may be necessary to install subsurface “pins” beneath the home along its perimeter. The pins are steel rods attached to the base of the foundation, and then inserted to a prescribed depth beneath the home. The process, while seemingly complicated is very simple. The house is lifted using hydraulic equipment, which permits the base of the home to be visible. The pin is then inserted under pressure into the ground. The idea is to permit the weight of the house to shift from the shallow to the deeper soils. This does not, however, stabilize the soil itself, which has been impacted by the sinkhole activity.
The soil itself is solidified through the use of grout, a material consisting of cement held in the consistency of a warm milkshake. The grout is injected beneath the home, either perpendicular or at an angle to assure the grout reaches the area of instability. Note, the grout itself does not “fill” the sinkhole. Instead, it stabilizes the soil, which has raveled as a result of the dissolution of the underlying rock. The quantity of grout can be highly variable, as the estimates of quantity prepared by the engineering firms are based upon assumptions that may not be accurate (e.g. consistent depth of limestone across the property, density of soil). Regardless, most insurance companies should agree to the amount of the grout, regardless of the estimate, if the insured enters into a contract and begins the repair.
Repair of Cosmetic Damages to Home
Once the subsurface repairs of the sinkhole are complete, it is recommended that a reasonable period of time pass before completing the cosmetic damages to the home. This period is usually no less than 30 days, as it provides time for the soil to stabilize. Remember, a grouting contractor who adds 300 cubic yards of grout under a home has just added tons of weight beneath the home. This may cause additional settlement in the short run, which may not indicate the failed repair attempt.
Most insurance companies at the time of the original investigation identifying sinkhole activity will make a payment for the “actual cash value” of the sinkhole damage. This amount constitutes the value of the damage, reduced by the depreciable life of the particular portion being repaired.
For example, if a loss occurred to a roof expected to exist for 20 years, and the roof was 5-years old, the total amount of the damage may be reduced by 25 percent. Once the repairs are completed, then, the insurance company will provide a total payment, which is the “replacement cost value” or “RCV” amount. For sinkhole activity and sinkhole losses, this process of reducing for depreciation is permitted. For most other insurance claims, the carrier may be required to make a complete RCV payment once coverage for the loss is confirmed.
To learn more about remediation of soil conditions for your sinkhole and timing of cosmetic repairs, contact Corless Barfield Trial Group at 813-498-1623.