Last week, I posted about a carrier’s right to “elect to repair” an insured’s sinkhole affected property. Why do carriers rarely elect this option? It may have something to do with the fact that many engineers testify that they cannot certify sinkhole conditions at an affected property have actually been remediated by the repair protocol; they do not know where the grout actually goes. They testify grout will flow to the path of “least resistance,” but cannot make any assurances the grout has remediated sinkhole conditions at an affected property. Accordingly, carriers attempt to avoid liability by not electing to repair the property and instead requiring policyholders to enter subsurface repair contracts based on the carriers’ retained experts’ recommendations. Because carriers are not privy to the contracts, they argue they are not responsible if repairs fail.

There are many ways to remediate a sinkhole affected property, and none are guaranteed to work. The three most common methods include:

1. Compaction or Low Mobility Grouting;
2. Chemical or Polyurethane Grouting; and
3. Underpins.

Hayward Baker explains the purpose of compaction grouting on its website, “Compaction grouting, also known as Low Mobility Grouting, is a grouting technique that displaces and densifies loose granular soils, reinforces fine grained soils and stabilizes subsurface voids or sinkholes, by the staged injection of low-slump, low mobility aggregate grout.” In English, compaction grouting is intended to solidify the deep soils and feed the mouth of the sinkhole to fill any voids resulting from the dissolution of the limestone.

Chemical or polyurethane grouting is a foam injection system of two different inert chemicals beneath the foundation. The two chemicals are mixed together and create a reaction which causes the polyurethane foam to expand and consolidate the shallow soils. According to NEC Kestone, Inc., the key advantages of this method are: (1) minimal disruption; and (2) the process is environmentally friendly. The purpose is to solidify the shallow soil zones directly beneath the property’s foundation.

According to Helicon Foundation Repair, “[u]nderpinning is a foundation repair method used to fix sinkhole damaged structures. It utilizes underground steel piers to stabilize the foundation. Concrete foundations usually shift because the upper level of soil is loose, or because a sinkhole has occurred within the vicinity. However, there is always a level of stratum deeper within the earth that is capable of bearing the load of the foundation. The process of underpinning involves extending the foundation’s load onto steel piers that extend down to solid bedrock.”

As technology advances, other repair methods are being developed. For example, perforated grout injection piers are now being utilized. These piers have holes that allow for compaction grout to flow through them and provide lateral support to the underpinning system.

Abundant resources explain the different methodologies that can be utilized in repairing a property; however, none of them are guaranteed to work. This may provide the best explanation as to why carriers rarely take responsibility for their suggested repair plans. The disheartening aspect of the repair process and the current state of Florida law is that carriers can require a certain repair methodology at a property without warranting its success or at least assuring the policyholder that if the repair fails, it will take responsibility for any further repairs.

Hopefully, our Legislature takes a hard look at the practical aspect of sinkhole claims before  more policyholders irreparably harmed.