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What is the Florida Sinkhole Neutral Evaluation Program?

Most of the sinkholes that occur in the U.S. occur in Florida, and homeowners here can purchase sinkhole insurance.

Senate Bill 408 sets out provisions concerning sinkhole testing and structural repairs as well as a reference to the neutral evaluation process. What exactly does this mean?

A little sinkhole history

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 35 percent to 40 percent of the total amount of land in the United States is susceptible to sinkholes. While most occur in the Sunshine State, Pennsylvania also has its share. Natural causes include earthquakes, excessive groundwater and the erosion of the earth’s surface. There are also man-made causes, such as mining, construction, drilling and areas with heavy traffic.

Red flags

Some sinkholes happen without warning. Others are slow to develop but provide signs to alert homeowners, such as cracks around doors or windows, an unexplained depression in the yard outside, cracks in the driveway or out in the street and even sediment that begins to appear in the drinking water.

Filing a claim

If you notice any of these problems around your home, you have a right to file a sinkhole claim with your insurance company. By law, the company must arrange for an inspection to determine whether a sinkhole is responsible for structural damage. If there is any question, the insurer must bring in a professional geologist or engineer to conduct testing and issue a report to the insurance company.

The Neutral Evaluation Program

Depending on the results of the report, the insurer could deny your claim. However, the company must also notify you that you can participate in the Neutral Evaluation Program. Conversely, you can ask for a neutral evaluation if, for example, there is disagreement about the means of repair to those cracks in your driveway.

The process is one of alternative dispute resolution conducted by a “neutral evaluator” who is a professional geologist or engineer trained in ADR techniques. Keep in mind that the neutral evaluation process is nonbinding. If you find that the outcome is still unsatisfactory, you have the right to explore other legal options.

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