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Florida Experiencing Increasing Problems with Sinkholes

Last year, a sinkhole opened up in Hillsborough County beneath the bedroom of Jeffrey Bush while he was sleeping, swallowing him and parts of his home. His body was never recovered, and his home had to be destroyed to fill in the hole. The frequency and severity of sinkholes has been increasing over the last few years, and more citizens in Florida are suffering damages as a result. If you or someone that you know has been injured by a sinkhole, it is important that you talk to an attorney to know your rights regarding compensation for this type of accident.

Recent Sinkhole Activity

There have been multiple instances of sinkhole damage throughout Florida within the last year. Besides the tragic death of Mr. Bush, in August 2013 a three story resort near the Disneyworld Resort crumbled suddenly into a sixty-foot-wide sinkhole. In May of this year, the parking lot of a Winter Haven shopping center developed a large hole. Smaller sinkholes have been developing throughout Florida, damaging homes, roads, and personal property.

Then last month, an entire neighborhood outside of Tampa was affected by the creation of multiple sinkholes in their area. Three sinkholes opened up within the span of one week in a single neighborhood in Holiday, Florida. The first hole engulfed an entire car within minutes before it stopped growing at ten-feet-long by ten-feet-wide. The resident’s mobile home, which was next to the first sinkhole, had to be condemned and five other families nearby were evacuated.

The second sinkhole opened only a couple of blocks away in the middle of the road. Thankfully, no cars or homes were damaged by the equally large sinkhole. A quarter-mile away from that, a third sinkhole was formed only days later that consumed another vehicle. A fourth depression formed in the neighborhood in the week following the first three, but no damage was reported.

What is a Sinkhole?

A sinkhole is a depression or hole in the ground that has no natural external surface drainage. When it rains, all of the water typically drains into the subsurface of the ground. In karst areas, where the subsurface is made up of rock that can be naturally dissolved by the groundwater circulating through them, sinkholes are much more common. Karst rocks include salt beds and domes, gypsum, limestone, and other carbonate rock.

When rainfall and subsurface water runs through the soil, these rocks begin to dissolve into spaces and caverns underground. Sinkholes appear dramatically because typically the ground level stays intact until the underground space gets too big, and then it all collapses. Times of intense rain and intense drought seem to play a role in sinkholes.

Sinkhole collapses can range in size and severity. Sinkholes can vary from a few feet to hundreds of acres and from less than one to more than 100 feet deep. Sinkholes can have dramatic effects, especially in urban settings. They can contaminate water resources and have been seen to swallow up swimming pools, parts of roadways, vehicles, and even buildings.

In Florida, some areas of the state are more susceptible to sinkholes than others. This includes Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties among them. In regards to the increase in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, experts stated that, “Not only are the number of claims on the rise, so is the total loss and expenses. This is statistically significant due to the fact that this area is generally not subject to sinkhole activity.”

Types of Sinkholes

There are three main types of sinkholes that cause damage to people and property: collapse sinkholes, subsidence sinkholes, and clay shrinkage.

Collapse Sinkholes

Also known as cover-collapse sinkholes, this type of sinkhole occurs abruptly. A collapse sinkhole can sometimes form in as little as a few hours but cause massive damage. Collapse sinkholes form in areas where the overlying top layer of soil is thick. While it may appear sturdy, the underlying limestone has been carved hollow by water. They are frequently triggered by fluctuations in underground water. As water levels fluctuate, the roof of the cavity is weakened. When the water level drops too far, the cavity walls are unsupported and the roof of the empty spaces becomes too weak to support the weight on top. Eventually, the ceiling collapses on the cavity and a sinkhole is formed.

Subsidence Sinkholes

Also known as cover-subsidence sinkholes, this type of sinkhole occurs slowly over time. It is characterized by the ground slowly subsiding or deflating. It can be almost undetectable and form over a long period of time. Subsidence sinkholes form gradually where the overlying top layer of soil is thin. The dissolving limestone is replaced by sand granules that fall into the depression and fill the gaps and channels in the limestone. Subsidence sinkholes are usually only a few feet in diameter and depth because the development of the cavities in the limestone is slowed down since they are filled with clay and sand. This prevents water from flowing in and carving deeper channels like a collapse sinkhole.

Clay Shrinkage

Certain clay minerals can change dramatically in volume as they absorb and contract with water. These types of clays are typically found in Florida. Seasonal and annual precipitation changes cause these clays to shrink or expand, and as a result the structures built on these clays may experience significant differential movement.

Contact a Florida Attorney Today

The increasing frequency of sinkholes in Florida is causing more people damage to their homes, their person, and their livelihoods. With insurance companies cracking down on coverage, it is more important than ever to consult with an attorney about sinkhole damage. If you or someone that you know has been injured as a result of a sinkhole in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, or the surrounding areas, let the experienced attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm help. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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