Florida Sinkhole Claims Attorney: Serving all of Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties
We hope you will find this website informative about sinkholes, including their geology and the damage they may cause to Hillsborough County,Fl homes. As well as the process surrounding filing a sinkhole claim and your associated legal rights
Why do sinkholes form?
Sinkholes form in karst terrain principally from the collapse of surface sediments into underground voids and cavities in the limestone bedrock. Slightly acidic ground water slowly dissolves cavities and caves in the limestone over a period of many years. When the cavity enlarges to the point that its ceiling can no longer support the weight of overlying sediments, the earth collapses into the cavity. In the less catastrophic type of sinkhole, a bowl-shaped depression forms at the surface, usually over a considerable period of time, as surface sediments ravel downward into small cavities in the bedrock. Well drilling data suggests that much of the underlying bedrock in Florida contains cavities of differing size and depth. However, relatively few ever collapse and directly effect roads or dwellings. Karst terrain is a type of topography that is formed by dissolution of bedrock in areas underlain by limestone, dolostone or, as in some western states, gypsum. Such terrain has underground drainage systems that are reflected on the surface as sinkholes, springs, disappearing streams or even caves. The term karst, therefore, refers to the terrain and the term sinkhole is one of the types of drainage features reflected by that type of terrain. In Florida you may see solution sinkholes, cover-subsidence sinkholes or cover-collapse sinkholes. The first of these three, solution sinkholes, usually occur where there is little or no sediment cover over the limestone. The rock is readily dissolved away at the ground surface or along joints or other openings. Cover subsidence sinkholes are located where thick permeable sediments cover the limestone. In this case the void in the rock is filled by sediments slumping downward from above. Eventually, the ground surface often shows a gentle circular depression. If a relatively thick layer of impermeable sediments covers the limestone there may not be a surface expression of a subsurface collapse Cover-collapse sinkholes occur where sediments that overlie the void in the rock suddenly collapse due to triggering mechanisms such as heavy rainfall, drought, or mechanical loading. Generally speaking karst terrains are not newsworthy items. Typically, it is only when a road or house happens to be located above developing karst features such as a sinkhole that headlines are made. Since much of Florida is karstic in nature, these same processes are continually taking place. As such, there is a certain degree of risk in living on karst. However, most people accept the risk as one price to pay for living in the sunshine state.
My yard is settling…do I have a sinkhole?
Maybe. But a number of other factors can cause holes, depressions or subsidence of the ground surface. Expansive clay layers in the earth may shrink upon drying, buried organic material, poorly-compacted soil after excavation work, buried trash or logs and broken pipes all may cause depressions to form at the ground surface. These settling events, when not verified as true sinkholes by professionals, are collectively called "subsidence incidents". If the settling is affecting a dwelling, further testing by a licensed engineer with a professional geologist on staff or a professional geology firm may be in order.
How long does it take for a sinkhole to stop growing?
When an underground cavity enlarges to the point that its ceiling can no longer support the weight of overlying sediments, the earth suddenly collapses into the cavity. A circular hole typically forms and grows over a period of minutes to hours. Slumping of the sediments along the sides of the sinkhole may take approximately a day’s time to stop. Erosion of the edge of the sinkhole may continue for several days, and heavy rainfall can prolong the stabilization. In the less catastrophic cover subsidence type of sinkhole, sediments slowly settle into underground voids in the bedrock. A bowl-shaped depression forms at the surface, typically over longer periods of time (sometimes as long as years).
How do I fill in a sinkhole?
Since anything buried in the earth potentially affects the groundwater, use only native earth materials or concrete for the fill. Broken limestone rip-rap or a concrete plug in the bottom of the sinkhole often helps create a stable foundation for the fill. Above that, add clayey sand to form a barrier that will help to prevent water from seeping downward through the hole and enlarging it further. Lastly, add sand and top soil, and landscape to surrounding conditions. Additional fill may be necessary over time, but most holes eventually stabilize.
A sinkhole just opened in the middle of my street…who should I call?
The hole should be immediately cordoned off and clearly marked to protect traffic. Contact local law enforcement to report the hazard and call your city/county road department to initiate repair work. If the road is private, repair of the hole is usually the responsibility of the landowner or property owners’ association.
Will watering our lawn lower the water table level and thus, cause sinkholes to develop in our neighborhood?
Probable triggering mechanisms for sinkhole collapse may include drought, new construction, blasting, heavy ground loading, heavy rainfall, and heavy groundwater pumpage. Private lawn wells are typically not sufficient to impact the water table enough to cause sinkholes.
Is there a government agency available to help fix a hole on my property?
No. Sinkholes on private property are the responsibility of the property owner. In some cases the owner’s property insurance may cover evaluation and repair of confirmed sinkholes. Actual coverage may vary according to circumstances and insurance company policy.
What is the sinkhole risk factor associated with my area?
Unfortunately there is no ready reference on sinkhole prediction or risk assessment. The insurance companies have tried developing risk prediction methodology, but since the underground cavities are largely undetectable without expensive ground-penetrating radar surveys, resistivity tests, or test drilling, little real progress towards this goal has been made. In recent years, at least one geotechnical company has developed a fee-based risk assessment registry based on an extensive private database of known sinkholes and local geologic conditions, which it provides to insurers. Some Florida insurance companies now utilize this registry for assisting in determining the sinkhole risk in specific areas.
Is there any way to have my property evaluated as to the risk of a sinkhole forming?
Professional geologists and geotechnical engineering consultants with professional geologists on staff can perform a variety of tests to attempt to locate buried cavities which might form sinkholes. These tests include ground penetrating radar surveys, electrical resistivity tests, and borings. However, test results may be affected by the local geology and elevation of the water table, and are not always conclusive. And in many cases the cost of a detailed survey is beyond the typical homeowner’s budget.
I am buying a house with a repaired sinkhole under the foundation. Is this safe?
A number of engineering companies routinely repair sinkholes. Techniques vary from simple injection of grout into the hole to more advanced systems of engineered reinforced plugs, pins, and porous concrete. In general, if a repair has been certified by a licensed engineer, and completed to the satisfaction of the homeowner’s insurance company, it is probably safe. However, as you are dealing with natural systems, there can be no guarantees that a repaired sinkhole will not cause future problems.
Is there a safe area of Florida in which to live with no chance of sinkholes?
Technically, no. Since the entire state is underlain by carbonate rocks, sinkholes could theoretically form anywhere. However, there are definite regions where sinkhole risk is considerably higher. In general, areas of the state where limestone is close to surface, or areas with deeper limestone but with a conducive configuration of water table elevation, stratigraphy, and aquifer characteristics have increased sinkhole activity.
Is there a database showing all sinkholes in Florida?
No. The Florida Geological Survey maintains a database of reported subsidence incidents. This represents only those incidents officially reported by observers. Although the data may contain some true sinkholes, most have not been verified by professionals and they are collectively called "subsidence incidents". The reported incidents tend to cluster in populated areas where they are readily seen and commonly effect roads and dwellings. However, numerous subsidence features may also occur in fields and forests, many of which go unseen and unreported. Also, the reported data only covers the period from 1954 to present. Many earlier subsidence incidents are unrecorded.
I am buying a new home and I want to know if there is a sinkhole disclosure law?
Most real estate seller’s disclosure forms used in Florida today include a sinkhole disclosure statement. Sometimes it is overlooked. If it is in question, be sure to ask.
Is a new construction site tested for sinkholes?
In most cases, no. It is generally not required by building codes, and most building contractors do not provide testing on private home sites because of the additional expense. In some cases public building construction sites in sinkhole areas may be tested and reinforced as needed for safety and liability reasons.
I was denied homeowners insurance because there is a sinkhole within one-half mile of my home. What can I do?
Currently, an insurance company has the right to not issue an insurance policy on the basis of sinkholes in the “area.” The definition of “area” remains subjective, and the issue will likely only be resolved through specific legislation, or by the general adoption of a standard by the insurance industry. Some companies utilize private sinkhole data to assign relative sinkhole risk (see question #12). Other companies may have more liberal policies, and you may wish to shop around for other insurance that may be available. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation provides a listing of insurance companies writing policies in the different Florida counties at:
My insurance company has informed us that the area where we are going to purchase property is listed as a sinkhole area. What does this mean?
What can we do about it? Should we buy in that area?
Certainly the availability of insurance is a major factor to most homebuyers. Current Florida law requires that insurance companies provide catastrophic ground collapse coverage, but unless specific criteria are met, this would not include sinkhole damage. Specific sinkhole coverage is now an option. Insurance companies may vary on their individual requirements and you should shop around for the best insurance policy that may be available to you. Unfortunately there is no ready reference on sinkhole prediction or risk assessment. This has made accurate risk determinations difficult and has hampered the formulation of either legislation or an industry standard on this issue. As a result many insurance companies have relied heavily upon the regional maps showing zones of sinkhole occurrences based on the local geology and historical sinkhole activity, or on private sinkhole data. Any decision to purchase a particular property is of course a highly individual one, involving not only insurance availability, but also your own personal tolerance for risk and your desire to live in a particular area.
M & I Bank Plaza
501 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33602
16506 Pointe Village Dr.
Lutz, FL 33558
3633 26th St. W.
Bradenton, FL 34205
The following maybe signs of damage caused by sinkholes:
- Interior: Cracking in your Walls, Floors, Doors & Windows do not open or close properly.
- Exterior: Cracks in Stucco, Block, Driveways, Patios, Pool decks.
- Landscape: Fresh exposures on Foundations, Trees, Fencing or other objects.
- Depressions or Wilting of small, circular areas of vegetation because the moisture is draining into the sinkhole that is developing below the surface.
- Ponding: small ponds of rainfall forming where water has not collected before.
- Water: Unusual sediment in water supply.
- If you experience any of the signs above and your neighbors have already reported sinkhole activity.
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