Can You Sue Over A Sinkhole?

In Tampa, back in March of 2013, Jeff Bush was in the safety of his own home, in his own bedroom when a sinkhole opened up directly underneath him, and swallowed him up into the bowels of the earth. His brother, who was also in the home, attempted to rescue him, but couldn’t. Jeff was declared presumed dead, and his body was never recovered. This was one of the few times when a sinkhole has caused a fatality in the state of Florida.

A Geological Hazard

Sinkholes are an extremely rare geological event where the ground simply “gives out” and collapses into a hole. Unfortunately for Florida, sinkhole occurrences actually have a higher than average change of happening in our state, because of the porous bedrock that makes up much of the state’s soil. This allows more water in than other regions, creating more erosion, and greater possibility for structural weakness in the ground that eventually collapses. In fact, two years after the sinkhole that claimed Jeff Bush’s life and required the demolition of his house, another sinkhole, in the exact same spot, opened up again.

However, when sinkholes do occur, the results are often devastating from an emotional, financial and sometimes physical point of view. As with the Jeff Bush incident, fatalities or other injuries can definitely happen when a sinkhole opens up. But if a sinkhole appears, and people get hurt, is there any legal recourse for those who are injured?

Due Diligence

Sinkholes are not mysterious, unpredictable phenomena, and a geological survey of any area can give a good, accurate indicator of the likelihood of sinkholes happening in a given region. Because of the higher than average frequency of sinkholes happening in parts of Florida, it’s not a bad idea to inquire about the soil condition and likelihood of this happening in a property you’re interested.

The reason for doing this is one of simple diligence for yourself, and safety for your guests. If you don’t take the time to find out about sinkholes in your area, your home may come under serious damage should one occur and you are unprepared for it. In the same way, once you are aware of the possibility of a sinkhole in and around your area, you should take appropriate steps to correct the problem. Talk to foundation experts to see about reinforcing the ground and soil around your home to prevent this from happening.

Protect Yourself & Your Guests

If you become aware of a sinkhole problem with your home, and you do nothing about it, should a sinkhole occur in your home and a guest becomes injured—or dies—as a result of the sinkhole, you are liable. That guest can sue you for personal injury or, in the worst case scenario, relatives can sue for wrongful death.

It is also illegal to be aware of a sinkhole issue with a property and NOT disclose that to future sellers. You can be charged with real estate fraud in such an instance, which is another legal matter entirely. So while sinkholes are not something that happen every day, there are serious legal ramifications for homeowners when they do happen..