Condo owners battle Citizens in sinkhole case

Article Courtesy of WTSP Channel 10 News

By Kendra Colon 

Published May 6, 2015


Concerned condo owners say they're living on a sinkhole, dealing with damaged walls, and worrying when their homes could crumble. Right now, Citizens Insurance is refusing to pay up. Owners at Brandywine Condos in New Port Richey reached out to 10 News.

"It's gotten a lot bigger in the years since we've been here. It spread all the way across to that corner and down over there," Paul Martineau points to the crack that's spread across his living room wall of his condo.


There's another crack that's surfaced on his door to the foyer. "That one's new. That's only been there maybe a year or so," Martineau says.

Some of his doors don't fit properly. "This one is definitely the worst. You can see the gap," says Martineau. And using a golf ball you can hear there are hollow spots under his kitchen floor. They are all signs of a sinkhole.

The Brandywine Condo Association has been battling with Citizens Insurance over the problems for the past 4 years.

"That's what you are paying it for. You expect when you do need them that they will be there for you," Martineau says.

While the damage inside Paul's home is obvious, it isn't all over the complex. Brandywine's attorney is concerned about what's going on underneath the buildings that you can't see.

"Their experts came out and said yes there has been sinkhole activity here at some of the locations," says Doug Grose from Merlin Law Group. He's representing the condo association.

Records show Citizens own engineers confirmed the sinkhole activity under 3 of the buildings. But attorney Grose says the insurance company then tried to hide behind changes to the sinkhole law in 2011 and refused to pay.

"I apologize, sometimes the wheels of justice do go slowly, sometimes more slowly than we want," Grose says.

So, the association is suing Citizens to cover repairs to the 3 buildings, but believes the sinkhole damage goes beyond that. Next week, they'll test the ground to include 4 more buildings in the lawsuit, including Paul's.

"Seeing these cracks get bigger and be spreading, I would say yeah we should be part of that," says Martineau.

"There is relief ahead and many of these problems will get fixed," says Grose.

10 News reached out to Citizens Insurance. They're still working on a response, but denied many of the claims in court documents.

REPLY:Citizens response to condo owners

Here's what the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation says about sinkholes:

Florida has more sinkholes than any other state in the nation. Section 627.706(2)(a), Florida Statutes requires authorized insurers to cover catastrophic ground cover collapse, but damage, outside a catastrophic ground cover collapse, caused by a sinkhole may not be covered by your policy if it does not specifically include sinkhole coverage. For more information on what every Floridian should know about Sinkholes and Catastrophic Ground Collapse, see the Department of Financial Services guide. For tips on settling your sinkhole claim where to find help, click here.

For more detailed information about Sinkholes and Catastrophic Ground Collapse in Florida, please see the following studies Web sites:

Report on Review of the 2010 Sinkhole Data Call (November 8, 2010)
Review of Florida Sinkhole Insurance Proposal by Deloitte (September 1, 2006)
Insurance Study of Sinkholes, Submitted to the State of Florida (April 2005)
Florida Center for Instructional Technology, University of South Florida: Florida Sinkhole Maps
Areas of Sinkhole Occurrence: Florida, 2008
Department of Environmental Protection: Sinkhole Information Page; Frequently Asked Questions

During the 2010 Legislative Session, the Office identified increased sinkhole claims as one of the cost drivers affecting homeowners rates. The Office heard from the industry that there has been a substantial increase in the frequency of claims, and that these claims are being filed outside the traditional sinkhole alley in Hernando and Pasco Counties. In August 2010, the Office issued a data call to commercial residential property insurers to collect claims data related to sinkhole frequency and severity of claims, and the geographic location of those claims.