What Are the Legal Implications of a Sinkhole in Gainesville, Florida?

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Sinkhole in Gainesville, Florida

Sinkholes occur more frequently in Florida than in any other state in the nation. These massive holes can cause major injuries, property damage, and even death. However, just because sinkholes develop naturally doesn't mean that no one can be held responsible if you or your loved one gets injured in a sinkhole accident. 

The same also applies if your property gets damaged by a sinkhole in Gainesville, which is quite a common occurrence. In 2020, a gigantic depression destroyed three houses in the Gainesville area, leaving several residents homeless. 

Suppose you're a victim of a sinkhole accident in this city. In that case, a personal injury lawyer can help review your case to determine whether you can file a personal injury claim. Moreover, they can investigate the sinkhole accident and negotiate a reasonable settlement with the liable insurance company. 

How Do You Know if Someone Else Is Liable for Your Injuries Caused by a Sinkhole? 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a sinkhole accident, it's advisable to consult a qualified personal injury lawyer in Florida. The lawyer can help prove that someone else is liable for your injuries and file a lawsuit against them. 

The following are examples of incidents where someone else may be responsible for your sinkhole injuries in Gainesville, FL:

Premises Liability

Suppose you were in someone else's house or property when you sustained severe injuries due to a sinkhole accident. In that case, premises liability holds the property owner responsible for the injuries you sustained on their property. 

Under the legal concept of premises liability, a property owner must maintain a hazard-free environment for their guests. However, before you file a lawsuit against the property owner, you'll need to prove to the court that the property owner had prior knowledge that their property wasn't in a hazard-free environment. 

Suppose the owner knew that their property is located in an area with a history of sinkholes or property inspectors alerted them that there was a possibility of a sinkhole in the property and failed to warn you before you entered their premises. In that case, they'll be liable for your injuries. 

Before a judge decides whether the property owner is responsible for your injuries, they'll need to consider the following questions: 

  • Was the property owner aware of the dangerous situation but did nothing about it?
  • Did the dangerous surface exist long enough for the property owner to be aware of it?
  • Does the property owner regularly examine and repair the property? If yes, does the property owner have proof that they regularly maintained the property?
  • Was it possible for the property owner to cover the sinkhole and make the situation safer for guests?
  • Suppose the property owner was aware of the dangerous surface; why didn't they place a warning sign or barrier to prevent guests from injury?
  • Did poor lighting contribute to the accident?
  • Did the injured victim act carelessly thus at fault for the sinkhole accident?
  • Does the injured victim have a legitimate reason for being where the dangerous surface was?
  • If the injured victim was careful, would they have noticed the dangerous area and avoided it?
  • Did the injured victim ignore warning signs indicating that the spot might be dangerous?
  • Was the injured victim distracted when the sinkhole accident occurred? E.g., were they running, jumping, or using their phone.

Possible Real Estate Fraud

According to Florida laws, if a real estate agent is more interested in making profits and fails to disclose known facts such as the possibility of a sinkhole in a property, then the real estate agent has committed fraud. Unfortunately, such practices are common among real estate agents selling properties in areas with a history of sinkholes. 

Suppose you bought your property from a real estate agent who knowingly withheld information about the possibility of a sinkhole in the area. In that case, they may be held liable for injuries you sustained due to the sinkhole accident in your premises.  

What to Do Before Buying Property in Gainesville, Florida 

  • contact an insurance agent to determine whether the property is insurable;
  • consult city or county officials about recent sinkhole activity in the area you plan to purchase property;
  • ensure that sinkhole coverage is included in your policy;
  • hire a private home inspector who can identify signs of potential sinkhole activity;
  • consider conducting sinkhole testing. 

Neighborly Nuisance

Not all sinkholes are due to natural occurrences. There are cases where sinkholes are caused by human activities that compromise the structural integrity of underlying rock or land surface. For example, human activities such as construction, mining, and broken water/sewer pipes can lead to the collapse of the earth's outer surface layer.

If you sustained injuries in a sinkhole accident you believe was caused by someone else's negligence, you could sue them for neighborly nuisance. The party responsible can be the government, company, or corporation whose activities interfere with the entire foundation of your premises or the surrounding neighborhoods. 

What to Do if Someone Else Is Liable for Your Injuries 

When you sustain injuries in a sinkhole accident because of someone else's negligence, the best thing to do is to consult an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer.

A Florida personal injury lawyer deeply understands the laws regarding sinkholes in the state. For instance, Florida law states that authorized insurance companies provide catastrophic ground collapse coverage. 

If the injuries you sustained due to a sinkhole accident in Gainesville could have been avoided, a Morgan & Morgan lawyer can help you file a claim for your injuries.

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  • Does Insurance Cover Sinkholes?

    As mentioned earlier, every homeowner insurance company must offer catastrophic ground collapse coverage. Even so, an insurance provider can decide not to provide homeowner insurance if there are sinkholes within your property. 

    Each insurance policy is different. For this reason, you'll need to review your policy and determine what's covered. For instance, some insurance companies have an additional premium for sinkhole coverage; if you have basic coverage, it may not cover injuries sustained from a sinkhole accident. 

    Nevertheless, you may still be covered under the 'catastrophic ground cover collapse' clause if you have basic coverage.

  • Difference Between Sinkhole Coverage and Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse (CGCC)

    Authorized insurance companies must provide catastrophic ground collapse coverage in Florida but not specifically sinkhole coverage. The willingness of an insurance company to provide sinkhole coverage depends on the characteristics of the ground structure beneath your premises. For example, if geological experts reveal that there's sinkhole activity within your property or the surrounding area, insurance companies may decline to provide sinkhole coverage. 

    The catastrophic ground cover collapse (CGCC) applies to every homeowner even if they only have basic coverage. However, to qualify for CGCC coverage in the aftermath of a sinkhole, the following criteria must be met: 

    • the ground must have collapsed abruptly;
    • the hole in the ground should be visible;
    • there should be significant foundational and structural damage;
    • the affected building should've been condemned and vacated.

    Suppose you sustained injuries resulting from a sinkhole accident that didn't meet the criteria above, and your policy doesn't include sinkhole coverage. In that case, your insurance provider will most likely deny your claim. 

    On the other hand, if your policy does include sinkhole coverage and you sustain an injury that results from sinkhole activity, your insurance provider may provide coverage.

  • Why Should You Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Sinkhole Claim?

    When you suffer injuries caused by a sinkhole in Gainesville, the liable insurance provider will hire claims adjusters to look after their interests when investigating the claim. For this reason, it's not advisable to negotiate with the insurance company or their representatives without the help of a personal injury attorney.

    Such an attorney will ensure that your rights are protected when negotiating a reasonable settlement for the damages sustained due to the sinkhole accident.

    A qualified personal injury attorney will: 

    • work with experts to investigate how the sinkhole accident occurred;
    • calculate how much you're entitled to as compensation; 
    • identify all available sources of compensation;
    • review your insurance and legal paperwork;
    • negotiate a reasonable compensation on your behalf;
    • represent you in court if necessary. 
  • How to File a Sinkhole Claim in Gainesville, FL

    After seeking medical attention for injuries sustained in a sinkhole accident, the first thing you should do is to call your insurance company and inform them of the incident. 

    Some of the legal duties of insurance companies include:

    • investigating insurance claims;
    • accurately interpreting insurance policy terms;
    • responding to their clients about the claim's investigation within 30 days after receiving the claim;
    • investigating whether their policy covers the claim;
    • notifying their insured if any additional information is required to process the claim;
    • explaining why they need additional information;
    • providing a reasonable explanation if they deny the claim or offer a payout less than the initial request by their insured; 
    • paying undisputed amounts within 90 days of receiving the personal injury claim. 

    If a sinkhole hasn't occurred at your property, but you suspect it exists, you can still call the liable insurance company and alert them about it.

    Most of the time, after notifying the insurance company of the possibility of a sinkhole in your area, they'll assign an insurance adjuster who'll document their inspection of the area. 

    Afterward, the insurance provider will send a geologist or geotechnical engineer to conduct other tests at your property to determine the sinkhole's existence. The inspection and testing can take several weeks before you receive conclusive results. 

  • What to Do if an Insurance Provider Denies Your Sinkhole Claim

    Unfortunately, some insurance providers may downplay your injuries or deny the sinkhole claim. If this happens, it's best to contact a Florida personal injury attorney for further guidance.

    An experienced attorney will analyze your insurance policy and determine the best arguments in your favor. They'll then gather evidence that supports those arguments and confront the insurance provider for compensation.

    If the insurance provider still denies the claim or offers an unacceptably low settlement, filing a lawsuit is the next step. This, of course, requires the attention of an experienced personal injury attorney.

  • How Morgan & Morgan Can Help

    If you live in Gainesville, Florida, chances are you've witnessed a sinkhole or even fallen victim to its destruction. Working with an experienced attorney from Morgan & Morgan can help you file a successful claim with your insurance company after the devastating effects of a sinkhole. 

    Florida sinkhole laws are complicated, and to make things even worse, insurance claims adjusters will always find ways to reduce your claim. Remember, insurance companies have their own lawyers, adjusters, and other representatives working to protect their interests. So even if you've been paying your premiums without fail, it may not count when you file a claim against the insurance company.

    This is one of the many reasons you need a fierce attorney to fight for what you're entitled to as compensation for damages caused by a sinkhole. 

    At Morgan & Morgan, we are the largest personal injury law firm in the United States. Our firm comprises over 1,000 attorneys with experience handling different claims, including those involving sinkholes in Gainesville, Florida. 

    Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, since 1988, Morgan & Morgan has been the go-to personal injury law firm in the Sunshine State for decades. Besides, we've recovered over $20 billion for our clients as compensation for different injury claims in Florida and all over the country. 

    We understand the devastating effects of a sinkhole, and that's why we are here to help. So if you're wondering how to file a sinkhole claim in Gainesville, Florida, call our office at (352) 204-4720 to speak to one of our legal representatives or drop us a message online for a free, no-obligation case evaluation! 

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