Like many others across the country, the team at our Panama City personal injury law firm listened with disbelief as the story hit the news on Friday. We've all heard of sinkholes and seen images of roads dropping away, cars clinging to broken pieces of asphalt around a hole that resembles Hollywood's image of a meteor strike.
However, the story of a hole opening up suddenly underneath a home on an otherwise common weeknight struck us on a much deeper level. Our hearts immediately went out to the victim and his family. As members of a legal team, our minds also turned to the fight the family may face as they face both the financial and emotional consequences of the tragedy.
Witnesses told CNN that they heard a deafening noise on Thursday night in Seffner, a Tampa suburb. Jeremy Bush reports hearing his brother Jeff scream. He ran to Jeff's room, or where Jeff's room had been, to find everything in the room gone. Jeremy tried frantically to save his brother, jumping into the hole and digging at the rubble until the floor collapses further and a sheriff's deputy pulled Jeremy back to safety. Jeremy was uninjured, though his grief and distress was clear to anyone who saw him on news reports the next day. Four others who had been in the home, including a two-year-old, got out safely.
Rescue officials took over the search for Jeff Bush, but they eventually had to admit defeat. On Saturday morning, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told reporters that they had been unable to locate the 36-year-old and had determined that survival was not possible. Officials also reported that they were unable to recover the body from the sinkhole that gapes 20 feet wide and is more than 50 feet deep. Attention then shifted to razing the house, a precarious effort since it could collapse at any time. Workers are doing what they can to salvage belongings, including military awards, photos, and a family Bible, from a home that had housed the family for generations. Merrill said that officials needed to get a better view of the sinkhole in order to determine the next steps.
In reporting on the tragedy, CNN noted that sinkholes are relatively common in Florida because the state sits on limestone and other rocks that can be worn away by acidic groundwater, creating voids that collapse when the rock is no longer capable of supporting the materials above it. Hillsborough County is part of an area referred to as "sinkhole alley," and a state report indicates that two-thirds of Florida's sinkhole-related insurance claims stem from the region. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") has a useful Frequently Asked Questions page that provides information for general interest and for Floridians impacted by sinkholes.
Florida law on insurance coverage for sinkholes has changed significantly in recent years. Previously, insurance coverage for sinkholes was mandatory. As indicated by the DEP, the law now requires that insurance companies provide coverage for "catastrophic ground collapse," but this may not always cover sinkholes. Specific coverage for sinkholes is available, but not mandatory. The law sets forth complex rules governing suits against insurance companies for sinkhole or other ground collapse coverage, including in investigation process. Working with an experienced Florida insurance coverage lawyer is essential to complete recovery in the event of residential ground collapse.
Our thoughts are with the Bush family as they confront the emotional and financial losses stemming from last week's tragedy. Our Panama City insurance coverage law firm team knows that monetary damages cannot bring back a lost loved one. However, we also know that financial resources are vital following a tragedy. You've paid for your insurance – let our experienced team help you get the money you are due.