Increase in Florida sinkholes – or just in sinkhole claims?

To read various internet commentary or blogging websites (authored primarily by Plaintiffs’ attorneys), one might think that West Central Florida is suffering from uncontrollable sinkhole activity; and according to many of these attorneys, this epidemic is spreading throughout Florida. While there is little dispute that the sheer number of sinkhole claims has increased, the question we might be asking is; why are we seeing the increase in claims for these kinds of losses?

Is there really a significant increase in Florida sinkhole activity, or merely an increase of sinkhole claims? Is this due to Florida geology? Or are these claims driven by marketing tactics made by savvy Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the hopes of exploiting the fee shifting framework of Florida Statute §627.428 as part of their business model?…Hmmm.

There are tremendous marketing efforts targeting homeowners to make sinkhole claims with the assistance of a lawyer; where none existed in years past. For example, in the last few months, several Plaintiff oriented law firms have erected billboards in eastern Hillsborough County as well as many new similar billboards placed along major highways running into Marion & Alachua Counties. These areas had barely been touched until recently.

Without a second’s thought, I can personally name ten lawyers that have left the insurance defense practice to build a Plaintiff’s practice relating to sinkhole claims within the last year. Many of these lawyers have blogs, websites, billboards, and send out mass mailers to potential clients. Wouldn’t it be naive to believe that all of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys are looking out for the welfare of Florida homeowners, and not just simply increasing the numbers of claims? Working in this industry and understanding the tremendous profitability for those that represent homeowners in claims against the insurance industry, I have to a conclude the most compelling reason for the increase of these claims is simply due to the marketing efforts of Plaintiffs’ attorneys, Public Adjusters, and even some of the ground stabilization companies.

According to the Tampa Tribune, sinkhole claims have doubled for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from 2005 – 2009. Recently, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) has undertaken an effort to determine why the number of sinkhole claims in Pasco, Citrus & Hernando Counties has increased and, why there are increasingly more claims in places such as Marion, Manatee, Hardee & Hillsborough Counties. It will be interesting to see if the OIR determines this problem actually lies beneath the surface or, once the surface of these claims is scratched, the support for these claims themselves collapse.

Author Judd Goodall

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