Family fears sinkhole damage could get worse - WFLA News Channel 8

Family fears sinkhole damage could get worse

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WINTER HAVEN, FL (WFLA) -

Salia Whatley keeps a close eye on the cracks in her home, and worries about what they mean.

She started noticing them last spring, and now follows them from her daughter's room, through the foyer and up onto the ceiling of the home's central living area.

"I can't remember the last time I slept well at night," she said. "Every creak or crack or noise that I hear, I jump because I'm terrified I'm gonna get sucked in a hole in the house."

Sinkholes in Florida are common, but high-profile ones like the Seffner sinkhole that killed a man earlier this year have made them even scarier for some residents living with cracks in walls and floors.

Whatley's fiancé Eric Espinosa filed a claim with insurance company Universal Property and Casualty Insurance Company that was denied. Espinosa has filed a civil lawsuit.

The process has taken more than a year, and in that time the couple says damage to their home has worsened. They've adjusted their daily routines to avoid parts of the house with the most damage, and even sent Whatley's kids away for the summer.  

A company retained by the insurance company did a geotechnical investigation on the property and reported finding "evidence of sinkhole activity," and said that activity "can't be eliminated as a contributing cause of the observed distress" on the home. However, Geohazards, Inc. also said the "distress" could be attributed to other issues and reported finding no "structural damage."

That term appears to be key, because it refers to a Florida law revised in 2011 that sets some guidelines for sinkhole losses and defines what qualifies as structural damage.

An attorney representing Espinosa in the civil case, Joseph Porcelli, said scenarios like this are becoming more common as claims are denied under the revised law and cases end up in court.

The civil lawsuit Espinosa filed against the insurance company claims breach of contract. Universal Property and Casualty Insurance denied that claim and a spokeswoman and attorney did not return calls for comment on the case.

 

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