Moving to The Villages can seem like a dream come true. The year-round warm weather, lower cost of living, and vibrant retiree community attract many new residents every year. However, few know that they could sit on a ticking time bomb: sinkholes. The Villages area has been affected by sinkholes for years. In 2021, three large holes appeared near a recreation center, causing the draining of pools and shutting of the center.
Before moving to The Villages, individuals should inform themselves about the possible dangers of living in the area and ensure adequate insurance cover. A Florida sinkhole can injure you and your loved ones and severely damage your home and possessions. If the worst happens, Morgan & Morgan can be by your side and help you file a sinkhole claim. If you have been affected by sinkhole damage, contact us for a free consultation to determine whether you qualify for compensation.
What Is a Sinkhole?
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a sinkhole is a depression in the ground lacking surface drainage. Sinkholes can be common in areas underlain by limestone areas, such as parts of Florida.
Sinkholes form when surface water seeps down and dissolves limestone, causing holes and caverns to develop over time. The soil and sediments above these caverns will eventually cave in, causing sinkholes. The most common sinkholes to form in The Villages are so-called “cover-collapse sinkholes.” Cover-collapse sinkholes can appear without warning and swallow up entire houses.
Early Warning Signs of Florida Sinkholes
Not all sinkholes appear instantly. Although the actual collapse can be sudden, sinkholes can take weeks or months to form. As a homeowner, knowing the early signs of a sinkhole forming can be critical for protecting yourself, your family, and your property. Warning signs of sinkholes include:
- Cracks in the ground around your house
- New cracks in the foundations of buildings
- Cracks in the road
- Cloudy tap water
- Wilting plants
- Depressions in the yard
- Cracks in ceilings
- Fence posts or trees tilting
- Cracks in exterior stucco and internal house walls
- Windows or doors sticking
Causes of Sinkholes in The Villages
Generally, sinkholes in The Villages appear due to the geology in this part of Florida. Floods and rainstorms can trigger holes during the rainy season, which runs from spring to early fall. However, in some cases, nearby construction work or water pumping can favor the development of sinkholes. Such activities include:
- Construction of retention ponds
- Underground water pumping
- Construction or repairs of roads
- Land development and construction of buildings
While getting insurance coverage for Florida sinkholes can be tricky, you could be entitled to compensation if nearby construction work caused a sinkhole on your property. Morgan & Morgan’s experienced sinkhole lawyers can help you recover what you deserve with an insurance sinkhole claim or lawsuit.
What to Do if a Sinkhole Appears on or Near Your Property
Most sinkholes are small to medium-sized and do not swallow up properties and cars. However, even a smaller sinkhole may cause injuries, damage to your property, and unexpected expenses. Moreover, a smaller sinkhole could precede a much larger one. Therefore, when you discover a sinkhole on or near your property, taking action can save your home and prevent injuries. Depending on the extent of the sinkhole and damage, consider the following steps:
Secure the Area
Homeowners may be liable if someone gets injured on their property. Therefore, making the area safe should be a priority, provided you can do so safely. You should try to cordon off a small sinkhole with a rope or fence and ensure no persons or pets enter the area. Sinkholes can expand suddenly and unexpectedly, especially during heavy rain and flooding.
Evacuate Your Home
If the sinkhole is causing cracks and other damages in your home, evacuate the house immediately. The sinkhole could impact the structural integrity of your home, causing partial or whole collapse. If the damage is significant, contact the fire department and consider turning off water, electricity, and gas to the property.
Contact Your Insurance Company
If you notice any warning signs or a sinkhole has appeared already, contact your insurance agent immediately to inspect your property. If you see a sinkhole near your property, such as in the road in front or near your property line, calling your insurer for help and advice can be an excellent idea.
Speak to an Attorney
Although all Florida insurers are required to offer sinkhole coverage by law, getting an adequate settlement can be challenging. A Florida sinkhole attorney at Morgan & Morgan could help you prove sinkhole damage, walk you through your legal options, and fight for the settlement you need to stabilize and fix your property.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Sinkholes?
Unfortunately, sinkhole damage may not be covered by your insurance policy. Although Florida insurance companies must offer policies including protection from catastrophic ground collapse, not all instances of damage are covered. To be covered under a standard homeowners insurance, the following must have occurred:
- The collapse happened abruptly
- A ground depression is visible
- Your property sustained damage to its structure or foundation
- A government entity evacuated and condemned the house
A sinkhole generally has to form under part or all of your house to qualify for a settlement under the above criteria.
Separate Sinkhole Coverage
Florida insurers must provide policyholders with the option to add specific sinkhole coverage to their existing policies. Individuals who paid for this add-on in The Villages may believe that they are covered for all damages from sinkholes. However, the insurer typically only pays if your home and belongings are damaged or destroyed by a sinkhole.
It is important to note that not all sinkholes damage your property immediately. For example, if you discover a small sinkhole in your yard that gets bigger over time, you may not be covered for any damages. You might have to pay out of your own pocket for repairing and stabilizing the ground near your home. Sinkholes could also reduce the value of your home and land considerably.
Homeowners insurance policies can be confusing. Moreover, do not expect the insurance company to look out for your best interests. Since sinkhole coverage can be a gray area, consider getting an attorney on your side if you have trouble getting a fair settlement. If you are not sure whether your sinkhole damage is covered, we can review your policy and determine your best course of action.
You Could File a Sinkhole Lawsuit Against the Liable Party
Sinkholes are usually natural occurrences caused by geological and weather factors. However, you could potentially sue for damages if a third party caused a sinkhole on your property due to their negligent conduct. Responsible parties could include a construction company, a local government entity, a neighbor, and others. If you are looking to establish liability for your sinkhole-related damages, our attorneys can help. We can assess your case and move forward with legal action.
Florida Sinkhole Safety Checklist - FAQ
Do I Need Extra Sinkhole Insurance Cover in The Villages?
Since residents should expect sinkholes to appear in The Villages, adding sinkhole coverage to your homeowners insurance policy can be a good idea. Sinkhole insurance should cover damage to your home and personal belongings and help avert potential financial hardship if a sinkhole opens up on your property. On the other hand, opting out of sinkhole insurance could leave you with astronomical expenses to repair or rebuild your home.
Can I Repair a Sinkhole?
A minor or moderate sinkhole could be fixed and repaired by professionals. For example, compaction grouting can stabilize loose soil near your property. The process involves injecting expanding foam or mortar grout to compact the soil and stabilize sinkholes and voids underground.
Another way to fill and stabilize minor sinkholes is “void filling,” which can be used to stabilize the ground underneath your home. For this, a substance, such as polyurethane is injected into drilled holes in the concrete surface. As the material expands, it fills in any gaps and holes.
How Can Morgan & Morgan Help With a Florida Sinkhole Claim?
We can fight for you if your insurer refuses or delays a payout despite adequate insurance coverage. Ways in which our sinkhole attorneys can include:
- Explain your legal rights and options
- Review your homeowners policy
- Track your insurance claim
- Negotiate with the insurer on your behalf
- Filing a lawsuit against the insurance company or a third-party
- Fight vigorously for what you deserve at a trial
Our team of tenacious attorneys can assess your case and discover all potential avenues for recovering compensation, which can include filing a lawsuit against a third party.
Unlike other law firms, Morgan & Morgan doesn’t accept the last best offer from an insurer. We don’t settle for less because we know that many of our clients depend on full and fair compensation to fix their homes. When we take your sinkhole case, you don’t pay a dime out of your pocket. We only get paid when we win, and you recover a settlement.
Contact Us for Help
If you live in an area impacted by sinkholes, such as The Villages, and have trouble getting what you deserve from an insurer, get in touch. Our dedicated attorneys fight insurance companies every day. We know the manipulative tactics that insurers use to deny policyholders adequate settlements and could help you get what you deserve.
Contact us now to find out more in a free case review.