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That Sinking Feeling – Protecting Your Florida Vacation Home

2013-09-11
By: Advocate Brokerage

By Rosalyn Binday

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Imagine waking up to find that the ground beneath your bed is crumbling – the confusion, shock, and horror you would feel! 

A tragedy befell one man near Tampa, Florida, when he fell to his death earlier this year, swallowed by a sinkhole that opened up beneath his bedroom. A near tragedy was averted just a couple of weeks ago near Walt Disney World when residents awakened to find their hotel crumbling into a sinkhole and alerted others to scramble out.

Sadly, this kind of danger and destruction is a common occurrence in Florida – a state with more sinkholes that any other area in the nation. While sinkholes aren’t occurring at a greater rate than usual, their high-profile nature has drawn the public’s eye. Many ask the question: what even are sinkholes? Why and how does the very ground underneath us give way? And what is your insurance coverage if one opens up on your property?

Advocate has some answers.

HOW MANY SINKHOLES OCCUR IN FLORIDA?

According to the state Office of Insurance Regulation, reported sinkhole claims have risen in recent years – jumping drastically from 2,300 in 2006 to a whopping 6,700 in 2010.  For a claim to be paid, there must be structural damage to a home, which thankfully is not always the case. However, when there is damage, it’s significant: the Office says that sinkhole claims in Florida alone cost insurers $1.4 billion from 2006-2010.

WHY ARE THERE SINKHOLES IN FLORIDA?

The bedrock of Florida’s peninsula is made up of porous rocks like limestone, while clay, dirt, and sand sit on top. As the years go by, parts of the limestone can dissolve, creating a void. When the dirt and sand the limestone supports gets too heavy for what remains, it can collapse, triggering a sinkhole. While such movement is natural, sinkholes can also be triggered by external events.

WHAT TRIGGERS SINKHOLES?

Sinkholes form naturally, but they can also be brought on by tropical storms, human activity, and heavy rainfall. Humans can cause these disasters by well-drilling, excavation, broken water lines and construction blasting.

Florida Statute 627.706 requires every insurer authorized to sell property insurance in Florida to also provide coverage for catastrophic ground cover collapse. The insurer will not add this coverage nor release a quote until you first provide a Sinkhole Certificate. This means that, at your own expense, you must hire a qualified, professional engineer to perform tests for sinkhole activity.  Prices will vary from territory to territory…and each insurer will use their own formula for determining the rate.

Virtually the entire state — but particularly Central Florida — is prone to sinkholes.  RiskMeter’s Top 10 Sinkhole-Prone Counties in Florida are:

  • Pasco
  • Hernando
  • Hillsborough
  • Marion
  • Pinellas
  • Citrus
  • Polk
  • Orange
  • Seminole
  • Lake

At Advocate Brokerage, we’re familiar with Florida vacation properties and second homes, and we’ll be happy to review your policy to assure you sufficient coverage. There’s no reason to panic about sinkholes in Florida, but it always pays to be prepared.

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