A sinkhole, according to Florida Law, is a “landform created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater.” Pursuant to Florida Statute Section 627.706 (1)(h), a sinkhole forms by collapse into subterranean voids created by dissolution of limestone or dolostone or by subsidence as these strata are dissolved.
“Sinkhole activity” means settlement or systematic weakening of the earth supporting the covered building only if the settlement or systematic weakening results from contemporaneous movement or raveling of soils, sediments, or rock materials into subterranean voids created by the effect of water on a limestone or similar rock formation. (Florida Statute Section 627.706 (1)(i)).
Florida Statute Section 627.706 (1)(j), provides “Sinkhole loss” means structural damage to the covered building, including the foundation, caused by sinkhole activity. Contents coverage and additional living expenses apply only if there is structural damage to the covered building caused by sinkhole activity.
It is true. It should only affect claims when the policy was re-written after the law went into effect in May 2011. For instance, if your sinkhole claim manifested itself before the date of the new statute, your claim should not be affected, and the policy’s definitions should control your claim. However, if it occurred after, and the insurer has re-written its policy to include the new definition of structural damage, it could have a profound effect. The new sinkhole statute provides a new definition of structural damage that will itself likely be a focus of litigation in future sinkhole claims. The statute provides in Section 627.706 (1)(k):
“Structural damage” means a covered building, regardless of the date of its construction, has experienced the following:
1. Interior floor displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 117-90 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the interior such that the interior building structure or members become unfit for service or represents a safety hazard as defined within the Florida Building Code;
2. Foundation displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 318-95 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the primary structural members or primary structural systems that prevents those members or systems from supporting the loads and forces they were designed to support to the extent that stresses in those primary structural members or primary structural systems exceeds one and one-third the nominal strength allowed under the Florida Building Code for new buildings of similar structure, purpose, or location;
3. Damage that results in listing, leaning, or buckling of the exterior load-bearing walls or other vertical primary structural members to such an extent that a plumb line passing through the center of gravity does not fall inside the middle one-third of the base as defined within the Florida Building Code;
4. Damage that results in the building, or any portion of the building containing primary structural members or primary structural systems, being significantly likely to imminently collapse because of the movement or instability of the ground within the influence zone of the supporting ground within the sheer plane necessary for the purpose of supporting such building as defined within the Florida Building Code; or
5. Damage occurring on or after October 15, 2005, that qualifies as “substantial structural damage” as defined in the Florida Building Code.
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