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While the Floridian lifestyle may include golfing, theme parks, and sunny days, it also includes sinkholes. Sinkholes are, unfortunately, a fact of life in Florida, and it is vitally important to understand everything about sinkholes to keep you and your property safe. 

When buying a new home, keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms of the possible event of a sinkhole. If you happen to buy a new house without the knowledge of a present sinkhole, it is important to know how to handle the legal side effects. Sinkholes may destroy your property, but they do not have to destroy your wallet. Although the average sinkhole repair cost each year is nearly $300 million, you can receive compensation for your sinkhole property damage.  Learn more about sinkhole signs and symptoms, when to look out for real estate fraud and pursue a sinkhole claim.  

Symptoms and Signs of a Sinkhole 

As a sinkhole begins to form, it can come with some dangerous side effects and render a property useless. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a sinkhole now can help you find the possible event of a sinkhole in your home, which can possibly save lives. If your new home has been affected by the occurrence of a sinkhole, your structure will show telltale signs.

The first sign is the occurrence of cracks in your walls, windows or doors. Some cracks will occur in interior joint areas, or outside. Cracks show that the structure has moved or shifted from the base. Sometimes, the cracks can follow the pattern layout of the bricks or other material that the structure was made out of, and other times it may look like a typical crack.

The second sign of a sinkhole may happen to your windows, doors, or both. Windows and doors may become harder to close properly, because they are no longer stable enough to fit in their frame.

Keep an eye out in your backyard and your neighborhood for the third sign of a sinkhole. Depressions can happen anywhere in the area of a sinkhole’s presence. When a sinkhole is in the area, surrounding yards and streets can cause dips in the yard. A way to determine this is by looking at a fence. If the fence is not level, then that means the yard beneath it has shifted, and is a victim of the effects of a sinkhole.

Cracks and concrete separations are the fourth sign. While small cracking in sidewalks is normal due to wear and tear, the separation of concrete due to a sinkhole is dangerous. Like a fence, concrete can suffer depressions and cause deep separations in the cracking. This destroys driveways and sidewalks.

Other signs to look out for include circular patches of wilting plants or grass in your garden or on your property. Sediment in your water may be another sign, as a sinkhole could damage the property around your water pipes and can thus damage your piping. If your neighbors have confirmed possible sinkhole activity on their property, then keep an eye out on your own property for any linked sinkhole occurrences.

What to Do In The Event of a Sinkhole

Sinkholes only get worse with time. When a sinkhole is found on your property, it is important to immediately leave the area until the situation is cleared up. When you are in a safe area, following the appropriate instructions can help you solve various legal issues.

The first two people to contact are your insurance company representative and your real estate agent. Have an adjuster examine your property to determine if an investigation must be made. If the sinkhole is more than just a dent in your yard and has since become a cavity, contact your local emergency management as well as your insurance company if you have not previously contacted them. 

Your insurance company will have to arrange a test and evaluation for your property via a professional engineering firm. The testing will include test boring, and sampling the soil every five feet. This will test the state of the soil. From there, your insurance agency will work on handling your claim based on the amount of sinkhole activity if any is present. Every insurance company will handle sinkhole situations differently.

There are three ways to pursue a sinkhole claim if there exists any fault in the party. A sinkhole lawsuit can occur due to the circumstances of premises liability, neighborly nuisance, or real estate fraud.

How to Handle Premise Liability

Premises liability is the liability of the landowner for certain civil wrongs that occur on the property. Premises liability can fall into the spectrum from environmental to coincidental when someone is to blame for negligence. When injuries are sustained due to hazardous conditions or defects, the landowner may be liable. 

The defendant must own the land and the plaintiff must be an invited party. Negligence or some wrongful act must be an active factor. When all of these aspects come together, then premises liability can apply

When this relates to sinkholes, the situation would be a landowner was entertaining a visitor and the visitor was suddenly injured due to a sinkhole, which could have been prevented with appropriate observance and action if signs had been previously noted. Just like how the driver of a car is liable for their passengers, the owner of a house is liable for the guests under their roof. The homeowner is then liable if they did not make the necessary repairs, and they are responsible for warning their guests of the threat of the sinkhole. However, this liability is only in effect if the homeowner knew of the sinkhole beforehand.

Sinkholes & Neighborly Nuisance

In some circumstances, the damage to your property may be caused by activities in the surrounding areas. Some sinkholes can be created due to negligent side effects. When instances of sinkholes are caused by interaction in the area, this is called neighborly nuisance, and can negatively impact your property. Other times, sinkholes can be caused by a construction company or the government drills or performs other extensive work that can disrupt the foundation of an entire block, including your neighborhood. 

In these circumstances, you can fight for compensation if it is the result of a company or corporation’s negligence. 

Possible Real Estate Fraud 

On occasion, real estate agents will sell you a home that is affected with a sinkhole and not disclose this information. If this occurs and the agent knows of the sinkhole, then they could potentially be liable for damages. This is what is referred to as real estate fraud. Real estate agents should be selling quality homes that are as safe as possible and must alert you of any possible danger with a property.

Unfortunately, real estate fraud is becoming a rising concern in Florida where sinkholes are common. If a real estate agent just sold you a house, knew about a sinkhole, and failed to tell you, then they could be held accountable for real estate fraud. Holding them liable will include responsibility for any damages you, your family, and your property experienced as a result of the sinkhole.

When to Pursue a Sinkhole Claim

Sinkholes very rarely cause death, and are more often culprits to property damage or financial loss. Knowing how to handle these situations now can help you be more prepared in the long run. 

Do not let your property, wallet, or sense of security become endangered by the looming threat of a sinkhole. Keep an eye out for the symptoms and signs, and know what to do when a sinkhole presents itself in your area. There are many resources available for you in these events, so know that you are not alone when your property is affected by a sinkhole. 

And if you do want to pursue a sinkhole lawsuit? Reach out to the lawyers at Lowman Law Firm. They’ll help you file a sinkhole claim so you can receive the compensation you deserve. 

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