Florida Homeowners Have Difficulty Filing Their Sinkhole Claims
In February and March of 2014, a Florida couple detected a sinkhole on their property, filed an insurance claim to have it fixed, and then cashed the insurance check without ever having resolved the sinkhole issue. They then sold the house to unsuspecting homebuyers – Kelly Magbee, her husband, and five children – without ever once disclosing information about the sinkhole on their property. In fact, they misled the homebuyers completely, informing them there “was no sinkhole and no prior sinkhole claim.” The criminals – Glenn and Kathryn Jansen – were later sued for selling their home without informing the new homeowners of the enormous sinkhole beneath it. In October of 2015, they were convicted of wire fraud – a federal felony – in the amount for which the home sold: $64,900.
Even though the Jansens will sit in jail for 20 years because of their felonious actions, the Magbees have a hard time finding comfort in that fact, as they were forced to move out of their new home within a year of buying it. They cannot receive an insurance check to fix the sinkhole damage, as a check was already issued and cashed to do just that. They continue to pay a mortgage on a home they cannot live in.
Florida’s Sinkhole Insurance Claim Disaster
Unfortunately, the Jansens were not the only homeowners in Florida who took advantage of the state’s sinkhole crisis. From 2005 to 2011, hundreds of Floridians – especially those in sinkhole alley of Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties – filed insurance claims for sinkholes beneath their homes, but then went on to invest their claims into anything but fixing the sinkhole damage. As a result, homes across the state sat in disrepair, further deteriorating and decimating the property value. Furthermore, insurance rates skyrocketed as privately owned insurance companies were forced to pay out millions of dollars for sinkhole damage that was going unrepaired.
Florida’s Law Regarding Sinkhole Insurance Coverage
Florida insurance companies since tried to regulate what the insurance claims checks went towards by hiring their own contractors to fix sinkholes, or by stipulating that the money must go towards repairing sinkhole damage. However, citizens of Florida continued to find ways around all the laws and stipulations surrounding sinkhole insurance claims, leading to Florida’s 2011 insurance overhaul.
The new Senate Bill not only made sinkhole coverage an optional and separate rider on home insurance policies, but it also made it possible for insurance companies to opt out of sinkhole coverage entirely. If an insurance company felt that a particular sinkhole was too great a risk, they had the option of dropping a policy entirely or charging the homeowner more. As a result, thousands of homeowners across the state simply dropped their sinkhole coverage.
Additionally, the new bill redefined sinkhole loss and what it would take for an insurance company to be liable to cover any sinkhole damage. Now, not only must the home exhibit structural damage due to the sinkhole, but also, in order for a homeowner to file a valid sinkhole claim, they must allow a structural engineer and a geologist to come out and review the damage and determine whether or not the sinkhole is to blame.
When To Hire A Sinkhole Lawyer
While Florida’s law on filing sinkhole claims definitely needed to be overhauled – and while it is not foolproof (as made evident by the Jansens) – it has made it more difficult for homeowners with legitimate sinkhole claims to get the compensation they need in order to fix their homes. If your home suffers from sinkhole damage, and if you are having trouble filing your sinkhole claim, our sinkhole lawyers at The Pendas Law Firm are here to help. To receive the coverage you need, contact our law offices at 1-888-LPENDAS, or online today. Our sinkhole lawyers deal with sinkhole insurance claims throughout Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.