An unlikely source has just launched a new comprehensive database of confirmed sinkholes and subsidence events in Florida. This new research tool was created by FloodInsights, a national provider of flood-zone determinations for real estate. This Florida sinkhole report service shows the locations of more than 15,000 sinkholes and subsidence events across the state.
In a recent article about the new database, the founder of FloodInsights explained that sinkholes are not just happening in Pasco and Hernando counties. Dan Munson explained “
Many people think that there are just a few counties in Florida that are affected by sinkholes, but sinkhole risk has been spreading geographically. In Leon County, such well-known sites as lakes Jackson, Iamonia and Miccosukee are there because of sinkhole formation that occurred ages ago — underlying limestone gave way and the sediments above fell into those voids.
The database is not free, but for less than $10.00, users can type in a property address and see confirmed sinkholes within a one mile radius. How did FloodInsights gather the data? Public recordings of sinkholes are available in county records, but until now finding and using these records was quite difficult and very time consuming because of the limitations in searching records and the various ways this information was recorded. It is easy to use county records to find documents for one particular address, but homeowners want to know if they are in an area with sinkholes nearby. Searches within county records were not designed to show you information on a particular neighborhood.
While designed for homebuyers, public insurance adjusters, geologists, and geotechnical engineers will also find this database helpful and should contribute additional reports to Munson. FloodInsights has already been gathering information from geologists. It is imperative that geotechnical engineers and geologists contact FloodInsights and provide information about the geological conditions they are finding. At Merlin Law Group a large percentage of our clients’ sinkhole claims receive an inadequate sinkhole evaluation by the insurer during the insurance claim. The resulting reports often conclude sinkhole activity has been eliminated as a cause of damage to their property, but with further testing, a sinkhole is verified. The magnitude of improperly denied cases for sinkholes in Florida has been immeasurable and for that reason all geologists and geotechnical experts need to share their information so the database is all inclusive.
Insurance companies in Florida have been required by statute to file documentation on sinkhole claims, but again, this requirement is only for claims where the insurance company’s hired expert confirms a sinkhole loss. Florida § 627.7073 requires the carrier file the documentation in the county records using the name of the policyholder and the legal description of the property.
When § 627.7073 was amended in May 2011, one of the many major changes was a new obligation for policyholders who accept payment for a sinkhole loss to also file documentation with the county. Policyholders need to pay particular attention to this change as it is a new duty imposed on them to take action.
Statute § 627.7073 (2)(b) requires:
As a precondition to accepting payment for a sinkhole loss, the policyholder must file a copy of any sinkhole report regarding the insured property which was prepared on behalf or at the request of the policyholder. The policyholder shall bear the cost of filing and recording the sinkhole report. . . . [emphasis added]
Further, for verified sinkhole claims, § 627.7073(3) requires the monitoring engineer to provide the respective county with the report indicating repairs were completed. Again, this information is filed under the name of the property owner and the legal description of the property, making it difficult for others to search.
FloodInsights is not the first database to track sinkhole formation. The Florida Geological Survey (FGS), a state created program, also maintains a database for sinkholes, but FGS is only as good as information submitted to them. Floridians with confirmed sinkholes are also encouraged to report to the FGS to ensure our state’s database is getting accurate information. The initial submission can be filled out online and a FGS geologist will contact you directly regarding the sinkhole. A search for other sinkholes can be performed on the FGS database by clicking here.
Policyholders and public adjusters need to be aware of these resources and also of the obligations of recording information for confirmed sinkholes.