How Do I File A Sinkhole Claim?
Start right away! Secure your property and take all steps necessary to protect yourself and others from danger/potential harm. Review your Insurance policy for sinkhole coverage to put in a claim. In Florida, if you have sinkhole insurance coverage, your insurance company is required by law to cover damage related to sinkhole activity (up to the limits of your policy). You can then decide to call your insurance company or agent on your own and let them know what has happened and provide some basic information where they should begin the claims process.
Your insurance company will generally send an engineer or geologist to survey the damage and to conduct sinkhole testing. Initial testing for sinkhole activity may consist of ground penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. These tests are used to detect anomalies underground. Another test that may be conducted is called standard penetration testing, where a drilling rig is used to bore a hole into the earth. Sinkhole testing usually takes several days but may be spread out over the course of several weeks depending on the type of test(s) conducted. If sinkhole activity is detected, your insurance company will request repair estimates, which should only come from licensed contractors. If sinkhole test results are negative (no sinkhole activity is found), your insurance company will most likely deny your claim.
Other insurance issues
Damages from sinkholes aren’t just limited to fixing or replacing structures affected by ground cover collapse. Property owners should also consider speaking to their insurance professionals regarding the following additional possible damages:
Business interruption. If you have to evacuate your whole structure, you won’t be collecting rent. Will you be able to make your monthly obligations without rental income coming from your tenants?
Utility Interruption. Suppose a sinkhole doesn’t damage the building itself? In Florida, it wouldn’t qualify using the state’s legal definition of sinkhole, which requires that the structure itself be damaged. But if it ruptures a gas or water main, or destroys your septic or sewage system, you still have a problem. Consider what an extended loss of communication, water, sewer, gas and electricity would do to your bottom line.
You filed a sinkhole claim.
Now what is the process? What should you expect from your insurance company? What should you say or not say so that your claim has the best chance of getting approved?
Usually, within a few days, you will get a call from your adjuster. They will schedule an inspection and a time to talk to you. The inspection should take about an hour.
Get ready for your adjuster inspection.
- Clean up your property. Pictures will probably be taken, and just on case you end up in court you want to look responsible.
- Think through what you will say. Don’t get too chatty. The adjuster is working for the insurance company, not you. It is their job to prevent the insurance company from paying out unnecessarily. Answer the question with facts that you know and say as little as possible.
- Don’t guess. If you don’t know the answer, just say so. If you don’t remember, say you don’t. There is nothing wrong with not remembering.
- Timeframes are important. If you noticed the cracks in your wall 3 weeks ago, say so. If you tell the adjuster that you have no idea how long they have been there, and that they have been there since you bought the house, they could deny your claim based on the possibility of pre-existing damage.
Geological testing is the next step.
Your insurance company is obligated by law to have a testing company confirm or deny that sinkhole activity is causing damage to your property. You will probably get a notification from your adjuster that a testing company has been assigned and a call from the testing company to schedule a time for their visit. The testing will include a detailed inspection of your property, followed by different types of Geophysical tests such as radar and drilling.
A few weeks after the testing, your insurance company will forward you a thick report. These are usually standard reports slightly modified for your situation.
Not long after the report, you will be notified of the insurance company’s decision. This should take a relatively short period of time. If it has been weeks or months since you have received the report, you may want to contact an attorney.