The Liability of Fixing Sinkholes

If you have been following the news media lately, particularly the print media then no doubt you have read a number of stories about sinkholes and the remediation method that homeowners are fighting with their insurance companies about. The Dunedin story has fanned the flames of this issue big time and laser focused some interesting issues the average property owner is probably not aware of.

Our congratulations for bringing some of these issues to light goes to Mary Ellen Klas who is Capital Bureau Chief for the Miami Herald and Co-bureau Chief of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald in Tallahassee. Her feature story Homeowners fight Citizens over sinkhole repairs, compensation stands out like the Dunedin case where another family has been fighting Citizens Insurance Company for a couple of years about how to fix their sinkhole. The article says that Citizens has paid the cosmetic damages and all the homeowner has to do is “sign the contract” from a Citizens preferred vendor and all will be OK!  

These homeowners are understandably very leery of signing a contract from an insurance company vendor for a method of repair that has proven to fail much too often in our history of sinkhole losses.  According to the experts, stand alone concrete grouting can cause more damage by depressing downward on subsoils, thereby increasing the volume of the sinkhole void. Plus, there is no guarantee your grout is staying under your house and not migrating to other properties adjacent to yours. It is not unusual to see reoccurrence of sinkhole damages once the grouting is complete as was the case in Dunedin. So why would an insurance company not want to fix your home with a guarantee, no questions asked?

Of course, it is all about the money. Citizens and others want to pump concrete grout under the house, while the homeowner wants the more expensive grout and pin piles method. But a combination of both may very well prevent a reoccurrence of sinkhole damages.

What is not mentioned is a third fix for sinkholes that has in fact been paid for in ADDITION to grout and pin piles. What I am referring to is steel I beams that are placed under the foundation just below the surface so the house is sitting on steel beams that cross the foundation from front to back and side to side. Then pin piles are added to the bedrock, with the final process being grouting the subsoil or void. This method is virtually a guaranteed fix to prevent a reoccurrence of a sinkhole.

The problem is that unless you are someone with a lot of power and standing in your community, albeit social, economical, political or pull from the powers on high, it is very unlikely you as an average homeowner will ever be “offered” this method to protect your most valuable asset.

Finally, remember the media stories? Read closely about the need for the homeowner to “SIGN” the grouting contract. If the insurance company is so sure of the method the chosen vendor has proposed, why are repairs being held up because the homeowner will not sign the contract? Why doesn’t the insurance company hire the contractor and sign their name to the contract?

It’s simple--if things do not work out and the house has a reoccurrence or is damaged beyond the initial damages, do you really think the insurance company will pay again?  Remember those cosmetic damages mentioned in the article?  They might well get worse after grouting through what is known as “up heave,” which is what happens when the grout pushes upward on the foundation due to an inexperienced contractor.  Is your insurance company going to pay you twice for cosmetic damages? Of course not! They don’t want to liability or to guarantee their fix.

Most likely their response will be—“you hired the contractor, it says so right here where you signed your name, so take it up with them now and in the future.” This sinkhole issue is not going away and hopefully the interests of the homeowner with legitimate/verified sinkhole damage will be at the forefront, as it should be with an insurance contract. Let us know what you think!

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