Sinkhole Injury Claims in Winter Haven, FL
Sinkholes are common in Florida, and Winter Haven is no exception. Polk County alone is home to 567 known sinkholes, according to one compilation of state and county data. News reports indicate that around 1,700 new sinkholes open up in the Sunshine State every year.
Sinkholes can be a severe threat to public safety, swallowing up homes and creating sudden chasms in city streets. Residential collapses have injured and killed unsuspecting homeowners throughout the state.
Florida insurance laws provide coverage to structures when sinkhole collapses occur. But what happens if you are hurt in a sinkhole accident? Contrary to what many people believe, you could also have a personal injury claim.
Let Brooks Law Group determine whether someone else should be held responsible for your sinkhole accident injuries. Call or contact us to speak with an experienced sinkhole lawyer in Winter Haven right away.
What is a Sinkhole?
A sinkhole is an underground cavity that forms when water erodes rock formations. The dissolved material is often limestone or dolomite, two of the most common types of rocks found in Florida.
Limestone is porous and dissolves when acidic water passes through it. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, rainwater is mildly acidic and gets more acidic as it travels through decaying plant materials. Over time, erosion creates underground pits that can turn into ponds, wetlands, or simply empty spaces. The danger to humans lies in the empty voids.
Types of Sinkholes
There are three main types of sinkholes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
- Dissolution sinkholes happen in areas where there is not a lot of groundcover over the surface rock. Water soaks through the bedrock, enlarging the spaces and creating fractures. Soil and other sediment travel down, creating depressions in the earth.
- Cover-subsidence sinkholes occur in sandy areas. The sand lying on top of the limestone drops down as the rock dissolves away, blocking the drainage of water. These types of sinkholes often end up as ponds.
- Cover-collapse sinkholes are the most catastrophic. They typically occur in areas where the surface layer is covered by clay. As water dissolves the area beneath the clay, soil settles and transforms the cavern from a steep-walled sinkhole into a shallower bowl shape. This change can cause an abrupt ground surface collapse, sometimes within a matter of hours.
Sinkholes can also be created by man-made activities, such as mining, drilling, and collapsed infrastructures like broken and leaking pipes.
Warning Signs for Sinkholes
Though sinkholes can tear apart the ground in an instant, there are telltale signs that can warn you of a potential hazard. These include:
- Round, circular depressions in the earth
- Places where the land seems “dropped down” compared to surrounding areas
- Circular lakes, which may be sinkholes that opened up and filled with water
- Cracked walls and foundations
- Cracked roads and pavement
- Leaning trees or fence posts
- Doors or windows that won’t shut as the foundation slumps
- Cloudy well water that was previously clear
- Slanted floors
- Formation of new ponds
- Drainage of existing ponds
- Water leaks or flooding when it rains
- Wet crawl spaces
- Sloping stairs
- Uneven cabinets and drawers
- Wilting vegetation
- Sinking porches
If you suspect that your property or a neighboring property has a sinkhole, call the FGS Sinkhole Helpline at (850) 245-2118.
Liability for a Winter Haven Sinkhole Accident
If you’ve been hurt or lost a loved one in a Florida sinkhole accident, you could have a legal claim if someone else’s negligence caused the accident to happen. Examples of potentially liable parties include:
- Property owners: If you were lawfully on someone else’s property when a sinkhole accident occurred, you might have a valid premises liability claim. Under Florida premises liability law, a property owner is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to prevent visitors or tenants from being harmed. Failure to repair or warn of a dangerous condition like a sinkhole could mean that the property owner can be held liable for any accident-related injuries. However, you must be able to prove that the property owner knew (or should have known) about a sinkhole or the possibility of a sinkhole on the premises. A sinkhole accident lawyer at Brooks Law Group can investigate your case and gather the evidence necessary to support your injury claim.
- Third-party negligence: Although sinkholes generally occur naturally, man-made activities such as construction can destabilize areas and cause sinkholes to open up. In these cases, the responsible corporation, government entity, or municipality could be exposed to liability for sinkhole-related damages.
- Real estate fraud: In Florida, potential homebuyers must be told of any sinkholes on a property that is up for sale. Failure to disclose the existence of a sinkhole can be grounds for a negligence lawsuit.
Injuries from a sinkhole accident can be serious. In addition to medical expenses, victims may also face time off work, permanent disabilities, and extensive property damage, including the total loss of a home. You deserve to be fully compensated for your losses if another party is responsible for them.
Sinkhole Insurance Laws in Florida
Florida is the sinkhole capital of the United States, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation. As a result, the state requires insurers to provide sinkhole coverage for catastrophic ground cover collapses to property owners. But not all homeowners’ policies provide specific sinkhole coverage.
Florida law also requires insurance companies to offer sinkhole coverage to policyholders, but it typically costs an additional premium. According to the Department of Financial Services, the property may also need to be inspected before coverage is available. The insurance company does retain the right to decline coverage if the property is located near a sinkhole.
To be compensated for catastrophic ground cover collapse in Florida sinkhole claims, the sinkhole activity must have:
- Happened abruptly
- Caused a depression clearly visible to the naked eye
- Resulted in structural damage to the building and its foundation
- Led to the property being vacated immediately and condemned
Keep in mind that if the property did not experience catastrophic ground cover collapse or the property owner did not have sinkhole coverage, they may be on the hook for paying for any sinkhole accident claims out of pocket.
Filing a Sinkhole Accident Claim
If you’ve been hurt in a sinkhole accident and someone else is to blame, you deserve maximum compensation for your losses. Trust the Winter Haven sinkhole lawyers at Brooks Law Group to fight for every dollar you are owed.
We know that the idea of filing a sinkhole claim can feel impossible. When you hire Brooks Law Group, you get a law firm with decades of experience representing injured Floridians in the most complex accident and injury claims. Rest assured that we have the knowledge, drive, and resources necessary to build a strong case on your behalf.
It’s simple to get started. Call or contact us for a free consultation. You’ll meet with one of our experienced attorneys for a private, confidential case review. After an initial look at the facts, our lawyers will discuss your legal options and rights to compensation. We’ll answer every question honestly and simply — breaking it all down without the legal jargon that makes everything seem more complicated and overwhelming.
Get Legal Help Now
For more information about how we can help with your Winter Haven sinkhole accident claim, call or contact Brooks Law Group today.