A man in Spring Hill, Florida found damage to his house which led him to believe that he had a sinkhole. Subsequent investigation by his insurance carrier confirmed that sinkhole activity did indeed exist under his home. Their solution for repair was to pump concrete underground and to do a band-aid type repair of the cosmetic and structural damages to the home. Their initial repair estimate for the dwelling damages was slightly in excess of $18,000. They also allowed for approximately $117,000 for subsurface repairs (the sinkhole grouting itself). The insurance carrier also chose to exercise their option to repair the property using contractors of their choice.
Our client’s concerns were two-fold: first, he believed the nature of the ground underneath the home and the existence of a pond (read: ancient sinkhole) directly behind it, meant that simply pumping “grout” into the ground offered no reasonable expectation of sub-surface stability. Secondly, he had absolutely no confidence in the contractor brought in by the insurance company due to their cavalier attitude toward the scope of damages and repair, and because of issues regarding the trustworthiness of that contractor.
After hiring public adjuster Michael Platts of Tutwiler and Associates approximately two years after the claim was initiated, Mr. Platts undertook to fully and properly evaluate the damages. He wrote a comprehensive estimate of dwelling damages not including the subsurface sinkhole repairs using industry accepted software. With his observational abilities and decades of experience he developed a preliminary building estimate of over $113.000 for above ground repairs only. After the subsequent discovery of still more damage, including to the roof system, he recommended the retention of a licensed class A general contractor who wrote his own preliminary estimate of over $132,000! (again, not including the underground sinkhole repairs) This was quite a difference from the initial insurance company offer of $18,000.
Unfortunately, the two sides could not agree upon any of the disputed positions of the claim and a lawsuit ensued. After a period of legal wrangling, experts, depositions and delays by the insurance company along with some debatable rulings by the judge assigned to the case, the property owner and his team reached an agreement with the carrier. The results were that the insurance company would be allowed to undertake the sinkhole repair, (“Exercising their option”) including hiring the contractor and overseeing the engineering firm. Once the grout had cured and the “repairs” had stabilized, the insurance company was to then send in their chosen expert to write an estimate for repairs to the house and property itself. If the insured (the homeowner) disputed that, the appraisal clause would be invoked. This allows for each side to have its own expert and for those two experts to submit their differences to an umpire. In this case, an umpire was previously decided upon who both sides were agreeable to. Two of the three would decide the scope and cost of the covered damage to the house and surroundings.
Once the insurance company undertook the sub-surface (sinkhole) repairs, their experts discovered that the policyholder’s team had been right all along. The sinkhole was not economically repairable or even safe to repair. Of course this had been hammered home to them again and again for the period of our dogged persistence involving this claim. The insurance company finally made the decision to pay the property owner approximately $230,000, plus $50,000 in legal fees.
The net result of the insurance carrier exercising their option to repair was an expenditure of $280,000, which brought their total payout (not including their own fees and costs) to more than ten percent higher than the policy limits and some 100% higher than their initial offer! Plus, the property owner was no longer required to spend any money by literally throwing it down a hole which was what he originally requested. In this case, trusting our experience and our experts helped the policyholder recover what was owed under the policy.