Finding a lawyer: for sinkholes

Never did I imagine I would be writing the word “sinkhole” here on Sidebar. But after reading a surprisingly fascinating article by David Owen, “Notes from Underground: Florida’s sinkhole peril,” in the March 18, 2013 New Yorker, here I go with this quote:

A large area near Tampa has been known for years as Sinkhole Alley, and within it there are stretches of roadway along which nearly every other billboard seems to advertise a lawyer who handles sinkhole claims. I visited one of those lawyers, Joseph A. Porcelli, at his office in New Port Richey … He told me that his firm, at that moment, had more than a thousand outstanding sinkhole cases, and that he urges all residents of the region to add a sinkhole rider to their homeowner’s insurance. “There’s no law on the books that requires  developers to test the ground before they build homes,” he said, “so they typically just knock down the trees and start building. There can be sinkholes that don’t show themselves until after the construction is finished. A cow is not that heavy, but a house is very heavy, and, over time, with the action of rainwater and the like, it can cause a collapse.”

Most of Porcelli’s sinkhole clients are homeowners, and they often come to him after their insurance company has rejected their claim. It can be surprisingly difficult to establish that property damage was caused by a sinkhole and not, say, by an incompetent contractor—and recent changes in Florida’s statutes have made it harder. If an adjuster concludes that a sinkhole may have occurred, an insurance company will usually hire engineers to test the soil with hand augers and ground-penetrating radar. In some cases, they conduct so-called “standard penetration tests,” which can bore more than a hundred feet below the surface. Even then, the facts aren’t always clear.

OK, so here’s the lesson I derived from this article: never mind retaining a lawyer for your sinkhole. Just move the hell out of Florida. Now.


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