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What Should I Do if I Fall Into a Sinkhole?

What Should I Do if I Fall Into a Sinkhole?

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What Should I Do if I Fall Into a Sinkhole?

It's a nightmarish scenario, something you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie rather than experiencing it with your own eyes. The ground starts to buckle, and all of a sudden, you find yourself freefalling into a black void. Sinkhole accidents are relatively rare, but that doesn't matter to someone who's lost their home or became injured from falling into a sinkhole.

Some sinkhole events even cause death, as in the case of Jeff Bush, a Florida man who woke up in the middle of the night to discover his entire bedroom had been swallowed up in a sinkhole. Sadly, the man was not able to be rescued, and his body still remains inside the 50-foot deep hole that took his life just 15 miles from downtown Tampa.

Suppose you've had the misfortune of experiencing the rare occurrence of sinkhole damage or injury. In that case, you may be asking yourself the unimaginable, "what to do if I fall in a sinkhole"? You may be concerned about who will pay for all the damage and whether your homeowner's insurance will cover the costs. Or you may be looking to hold someone accountable for a dangerous situation. We're here to help answer all the questions you may have about sinkholes, insurance, and liability. 

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FAQ

Morgan & Morgan

  • What is a sinkhole?

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a sinkhole is a depression in the earth that has no natural external surface drainage. The sinkhole fills with water when it rains and then drains into the subsurface. Sinkholes are astonishing because they can be developing underground for a long time while the land above stays intact. When the spaces below the surface become large enough, a dramatic collapse then happens.

  • How do sinkholes happen?

    Geologists identify "karst terrain" as being the most common sort of land that is susceptible to the development of sinkholes. These regions have rocks below the land surface that naturally dissolve in the groundwater, which circulates around them. Salt beds and domes, limestone, gypsum, and other carbonate rocks are soluble. When groundwater moves these rocks, they dissolve, leaving caverns and different types of underground spaces, which can cause the land above to collapse.

  • What happens if I drive my car into a sinkhole?

    Poor road conditions are a hazard, especially when it involves sinkholes. Damage to your car likely means you also suffered injuries. It's the duty of the city and state to maintain roads and make sure they are safe to drive on. When officials fail to make certain roads are properly maintained or fail to identify hazards, they open themselves up to liability should an accident occur. 

    Proving your claim will involve showing that the government knew of the hazardous road conditions and didn't repair it or warn of the hazard in a timely fashion. If you're lucky, they may acknowledge the failure and simply pay you for your damages. Otherwise, you're going to have to do some investigating and a lot of legwork. Filing a claim against the city or state has many special rules, and they vary across jurisdictions. Additionally, you typically have a short window in which you can file a claim which is why we recommend you contact one of our personal injury attorneys to make sure everything is filed correctly and on time.

  • What happens if I fall into a sinkhole on someone else's property?

    Suppose you fell into a sinkhole and were injured on someone else's property or business. In that case, you may be able to get compensation for your injuries under premise liability law. Property owners are responsible for maintaining a safe environment for guests and customers; however, not all premise liability claims are open and shut cases. 

    To have a successful premise liability case, you have to prove one of the following:

    1. The property owner or employee knew about the sinkhole and did nothing to warn or fix the problem.
    2. The property owner or employee should have known about the dangerous sinkhole because a "reasonable" person in charge of taking care of a property would have discovered the hazard and taken steps to repair it or make sure people couldn't access it. 

    Premise liability and negligence often hinge on the concept of what a "reasonable" person would do under the same circumstances. For example, would a reasonable person not notice a sinkhole in their yard over a period of time, or could your host have warned you about the sinkhole or put a barrier to make sure you wouldn't get injured?

    You also have to be prepared to examine whether your own actions contributed to the accident, such as not watching where you were walking. This will be important when trying to convince an insurance adjuster that you didn't contribute to your own injury.

  • What if I fell into a sinkhole on my own property?

    Suppose you were injured from falling into a sinkhole on your own property. In that case, you might wonder if your policy's personal liability coverage includes your own injuries. You would need to rely on your own health insurance to cover medical expenses in almost every instance, as personal liability insurance only applies to others. However, damage to your home from a sinkhole could be another matter. 

    Standard homeowners' policies exclude sinkhole formation coverage. Still, some states that are prone to sinkhole development require the option for sinkhole collapse coverage. Florida and Tennessee have this requirement. Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Texas offer sinkhole coverage at additional costs. At the same time, Missouri residents may need to buy a standalone sinkhole policy. 

    If you live in one such state or have purchased a sinkhole collapse endorsement from an insurance company, you should be able to make a claim for your damages. 

  • What area of the country are sinkholes most likely to develop?

    A sinkhole can develop almost anywhere, but here are the states where the most frequent damage occurs and why.

    Florida - Florida is a hotbed for sinkholes owing to exposed or thinly covered carbonate rocks and permeable sand and soil. Sinkholes are also thought to be created by heavy rainfall, long-term droughts, land development, water pumping, and retention pond construction.

    Texas - In Texas, oil drilling is thought to be a significant contributor to the occurrence of sinkholes as well as coal mining. Of course, naturally occurring sinkholes are due to salt-dome, bedded salt, and limestone dissolution.

    Alabama - The state of Alabama has more miles of underground rivers than any other state leaving the area susceptible to sinkhole formation. Alabama is also home to one of the largest sinkholes in the U.S. called the Golly Hole, which measures more than 300 feet across.

    Missouri - Missouri has more than 16,000 known sinkholes. In fact, the whole city of St. Louis is built on top of a cave system. More than half of Missouri's land surface is made up of limestone and carbonate bedrock.

    Kentucky - Parts of Kentucky can see as much as 58 inches of rain per year, leading to groundwater fluctuations. The underground soil is washed when the water flows through, and the limestone bedrock dissolves.

    Tennessee - Karst terrain and limestone formations make Tennessee a top contender for sinkholes to develop, mainly in the middle and eastern part of the state. 

    Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania is prone to sinkholes largely because of limestone and dolomite dissolution from water and carbon dioxide mixing to form an acid. 7% of the state's 44,000 miles exist on sinkhole vulnerable karst. 

    Special sinkhole caveats in Florida law

    Since Florida has more sinkholes than any other state, home insurance companies are required to cover "catastrophic ground cover collapse." You may think that since you have a sinkhole in your yard, your insurance has to pay for it to get fixed, but not necessarily. The following four geological activity elements have to be met for insurance to cover it.

    • The abrupt collapse of ground cover
    • Depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye
    • Structural damage to the building, including its foundation
    • The structure is condemned and ordered to be vacated by a government agency

    Unfortunately, this means that even if a sinkhole has caused damage to your home unless it's condemned, you're not likely to get any compensation for repairs. However, it's always best to consult with one of our personal injury attorneys to make sure the insurance company is acting fairly. 

  • What are the signs of a sinkhole on my property?

    It's important to learn how to detect the signs of a sinkhole to protect your life and property. Here are indicators that a sinkhole disaster may be imminent:

    • New cracks in interior joint areas
    • New cracks in stucco or exterior block
    • Yard or street depressions
    • Sticking doors and windows
    • Cracks, gaps, and separations in concrete
    • Wilting plants
    • Cavity formation
    • Foundation cracks
    • Settling foundation
    • Loss of pool water
    • Sloping floors
    • Cracks in the ceiling
    • Neighbors with sinkholes
    • Slumping trees or fenceposts
    • Openings in the ground where rainwater disappears
    • Foundations previously buried are exposed
    • Formations of small ponds when raining
    • Cloudy or muddy well water
  • Who do you call if you suspect a sinkhole?

    Sinkholes usually develop over time, and there can be warning signs. However, if you experience something like a sudden drop in well water levels, you should get out of your home immediately, contact your local emergency management organization and then your insurance company. If possible, cordon off the area to make sure curious neighbors and lookie-loos don't get hurt.

  • When to contact a personal injury lawyer

    You've asked the question, "what to do if I fall in a sinkhole," and we've gone over some of the scenarios. In some cases, you'll need to pursue a claim against the owner of the property where it occurred or the government agency that was in charge of maintaining the roadways. Suing for negligence isn't something we recommend individuals do on their own because laws vary and can be quite complex. Sometime's, you may not even know who is the correct entity to sue. You could have your case dismissed because you're going after the wrong party. 

    Our sinkhole lawyers can identify the right party and have extensive experience dealing with insurance companies. We know all the tricks they can use to deny a valid injury claim but are also familiar with how insurance companies force homeowners to make subpar repairs for sinkhole damage to their property or how they deny that the damage came from a sinkhole. 

    The insurance company will undoubtedly have their experts working against you, so why shouldn't you have expert representation on your side? We've been fighting insurance companies since the 1980s and have had tens of thousands of successful cases resulting in huge payouts for our clients. If you're interested in becoming another Morgan & Morgan success story, contact us today for a free case evaluation. If we can't help, you don't pay. 

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