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Sinkholes, what are they?

If you live in Florida, you’re definitely aware of sinkholes and how destructive they can be to property. Sinkholes most often occur when water accumulates underground dissolving the bedrock and forming a void for whatever lies above it to sink into.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a cavity in the ground, especially in a limestone formation, caused by water erosion and providing a route for surface water to disappear underground.” Sinkholes, also referred to as cenotes, can occur without warning any time of the year, especially in Florida who has more sinkhole activity than any other state. But everyone, everywhere should be aware of sinkholes, no matter where you live, as around 40% of the United States can experience sinkholes.

sinkhole diagram

Is sinkhole damage covered in your homeowners’ policy? Most likely it isn’t. But a lot of people think it is. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. In Florida, homeowners’ insurance must cover damage from “catastrophic ground cover collapse.” It sounds like this would be an instance of sinkhole activity, but it isn’t. If you are unsure, please contact one of the Pros at ARCW Insurance, and we can help walk you through your policy.

Sinkhole Warning Signs

If you’re lucky, you’ll get some warning signs before a sinkhole opens up. Signs to look for include:

  • Cracks in the foundation
  • Doors that no longer close easily because of slanted framework
  • Leaning trees
  • Sudden water pools and/or cracks on your land

Each of these signs alone are important enough to bring an expert in for an inspection. The last sign is a real red flag warning you to get professional help sooner rather than later.

If your home shows signs of sinking or shifting, or you have confirmed sinkhole activity, follow these steps:

  • Secure your property for the safety of everyone. Rope or tape off the area around the sinkhole and post a warning sign.
  • Remove your personal property only if it is safe.
  • Prepare to evacuate.
  • Contact your area building department and your insurance agent

The Legalities of Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse vs. Sinkholes

Florida law defines these two seemingly related incidents differently. In short:

Sinkhole – A landform created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. Sinkholes may form by collapse into subterranean voids created by the dissolution of limestone or dolostone.

Catastrophic ground cover collapse –This is considered a geological activity. Earthtech (http://www.earthtech.com/residential/sinkhole-truth/florida-sinkhole-insurance-facts/) states that Florida law defines the incident as catastrophic ground cover collapse if it is a result of 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
  4. The insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the governmental agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure

Changes in Florida Sinkhole Insurance Law

sinkhole home

Florida and Tennessee are the only states that require some form of coverage for earth movement. Up until 2007, Florida sinkhole coverage was really broad. But that all changed after 2007.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, sinkhole claims tripled in the years between 2007 and 2011. The Florida Senate Bill 408 was passed in 2011. It greatly reduced the scope of damage that qualified for claims. The bill also stated that all monies paid on the claims had to be used to repair the property.

The bill also states:

  • A sinkhole loss must include structural damage that includes the foundation
  • Structural damage must involve foundation movement that exceeds an acceptable variance in the building code, and it must cause the structural systems to be unable to support the loads they were designed for
  • There is a 2-year limit for filing sinkhole damage claims

As terrifying as the prospect of experiencing a sinkhole is, being prepared can make all the difference. Talk with your homeowner insurance agent about adding sinkhole insurance to your existing policy. It won’t stop a sinkhole from happening, but it could make the difference between being able to financially recover after a sinkhole incident.


This information is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice.  Should you have any questions or would like to discuss your risk exposure with your home insurance, please contact the insurance pros at ARCW Insurance.  We are here to help.