(Note: this Guest Blog is by Donna DeVaney, an attorney with Merlin Law Group in the Tampa, Florida, office. This is a series that she and fellow attorney Kristin Demers-Crowell are writing on sinkhole issues).
Insurance companies have come up with a whole new excuse not to pay covered sinkhole claims. The recent trend has been to deny payment on confirmed sinkhole losses by arguing the damage is not "structural" damage as defined by Florida Statute 627.706.
F.S. 627.706 states in part:
627.706 Sinkhole insurance; catastrophic ground cover collapse; definitions.–
(c) "Sinkhole loss" means structural damage to the building, including the foundation, caused by sinkhole activity. Contents coverage shall apply only if there is structural damage to the building caused by sinkhole activity.
The meaning of the word "structural" was recently brought before Judge Barton in Hillsborough County and he ruled against the insurance company, holding that "structural" damage means damage to the "structure," which includes purely cosmetic damages. See Judge Barton’s order below:
While this is not an appellate decision, it is persuasive authority and insurance companies who take this position should be challenged every time.