Sinkhole insurance and your options

Experts can predict the weather, but they can’t predict sinkholes. We have more sinkholes in Florida than any other state, and some areas are more vulnerable to sinkholes, such as West Central Florida and Tampa Bay, and they open up when it is very dry or very wet. So, rainy season is hurricane season is sinkhole season.

First thing you’ll want to know is whether or not you live on potentially “shaky ground,” keeping in mind that sinkholes can happen anywhere and occur more often where the limestone is closer to the surface. The Florida Geological Survey has a sinkhole poster that shows the distribution of reported sinkholes in the state. The most dramatic sinkhole occurring in Florida happened in Winter Park in 1981. In just one day, the sinkhole grew to more than 300 feet wide and 90 feet deep – and it kept on growing. Here’s a YouTube video that includes news footage of the Winter Park sinkhole as it swallowed up property and a couple of classic cars. Today, the sinkhole is known as Lake Rose, a natural lake with quite a story to tell.

There are two levels of sinkhole insurance – one that typically carries no additional fee and applies only when the building, in essence, is swallowed by a sinkhole, and the other is more comprehensive to cover sinkhole damage, requiring an additional premium. Florida sinkhole law requires insurers to provide coverage for “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” defined as when all four of these criteria occur: 1.) an abrupt collapse of the ground, 2.) a visible depression appears, 3.) there is structural damage to the property, including the foundation, and  4.) the building is condemned by a government agency. If all four do not occur, such as when there are cracks in the foundation but you can still live in the home, then insurance may not pay for the damage. This is why people choose to buy comprehensive sinkhole insurance which is an addendum to their existing property insurance policy. Consumers have the option to choose the type of coverage they want. Keep in mind that some insurers automatically give you the comprehensive coverage and you have to opt OUT if you don’t want it, while others may provide the coverage that the state law requires and you have to opt IN to get full coverage. Make sure you know what you have by reading your insurance policy or calling your insurer. How much does comprehensive sinkhole coverage cost? Depends on where you live. If you look at the sinkhole poster from the Florida Geological Society and there are no dots where you live, it may cost you pennies a year for comprehensive sinkhole coverage. If you live in Tampa Bay like I do, where there is a sea of blue dots on the poster for reported sinkholes, sinkhole insurance can range from $300-$400 a year.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has said a dramatic rise in sinkhole claims is driving up the cost of business for insurers in Florida. There are people who make money by encouraging homeowners who have comprehensive sinkhole insurance to file claims. When a claim is filed for suspected sinkhole activity, the cost to do ground testing with a geological expert can run $10,000 or more. And, that’s just the beginning, since the costs to repair the sinkhole means filling up an underground hole that is often of indeterminate size.

About lynnem

Our blogger, Lynne McChristian, is the Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute and is based in Tampa.
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4 Responses to Sinkhole insurance and your options

  1. Joan says:

    I live in Orlando, Florida. Would you please provide me a list of insurance companies that offer the sink hole insurance. Thanks,

    • lynnem says:

      Hi Joan,
      Best thing to do to find sinkhole coverage is to contact your current insurance company to see if they offer it – or connect with an independent insurance agent. Sinkhole coverage is tied to your property insurance policy and I am unaware of any company that offers it separately.

      Hope that helps,
      Insuring Florida Team

  2. Rick Peluso says:

    I have Citizen’s insurance. I went to my agent today and he said they do have the comprehensive sinkhole insurance I need. I’m covered for catastrophic but not comprehensive. What would happen if a sinkhole causes, say $50,000 in damage but this damage does not come close to value of the house. I cannot afford that $50,000. what can I do?

    • lynnem says:

      Did you ask your insurance agent about the cost of comprehensive sinkhole coverage? Every Florida policy covers catastrophic damage, but anything less than that would require comprehensive sinkhole coverage – or the cost of repairs would come out of your own pocket.

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