If you live in Florida and have sinkhole coverage, must you prove to your insurance company that the sinkhole was the cause of damage to your home? In the past, the legal answer was, “Yes.” The burden of proof lay squarely on your back. Recently, however a Florida judge overturned the ruling. Policyholders are no longer required to prove that damage to their homes was caused by a sinkhole.
Take the case of Alfred Mejia, from Polk County, who after submitting a sinkhole claim to his insurance company, was denied because the engineering company stated that the damage to Mr. Mejia’s Lakeland home was not sinkhole-related. Both parties went to court. Mr. Mejia was required to present evidence that the structural damage to his Polk County home was indeed due to a sinkhole even though he had asked for jury instructions to consider only that the home was damaged while it was covered by his sinkhole policy. This would have forced his insurance company to prove that the damage was not covered under the policy.
Alfred Mejia lost his case in court and then appealed. Late November 2014, the court agreed to the appeal and a new trial was scheduled. Judge Stevan T. Northcutt ruled that policyholders who are under an all-risk contract were only required to prove that their home or property was damaged while they were covered by the policy. Now, it is the insurance company who must prove that the damage or loss was not covered.
The Florida Second District Court of Appeals stated that during the trial, the court had excluded by mistake, for over three years, the Florida insurance company had paid almost $9.5 million in fees to BCI, the company that concluded Alfred Mejia’s home was not damaged by sinkhole activity. The fees were used for “expert witnesses” from BCI.