Sinkhole repairs could make you a target for attorneys

Article Courtesy of BayNews 9

By Michelle Kay
Published September 16, 2007

PASCO COUNTY (Bay News 9) -- In Pasco County, before you repair a sinkhole you have to pull a permit.

That creates a record so the next potential buyer of the property will know what they are dealing with. But commissioners said lawyers are using those records as a way to find new clients.

There's technically nothing wrong with a lawyer trying to drum up more business. But Pasco commissioners and state lawmakers said before homeowners with a potential sinkhole claim call an attorney, they should first call the state ombudsman's office because it won't cost anything.

Commissioner Michael Cox said the county has a plan to make sure residents get the word.

"We will contact the homeowners via letter letting them know there are options available to them through the state," Cox said.

Pasco attorney Craig Levalley said he doesn't use sinkhole repair permits to find customers. But he is skeptical of the county's plan to encourage homeowners to call the state sinkhole ombudsman first.

"The ombudsman's office doesn't have the ability to give anyone specific legal advice," Levalley said. "The only power they have is to see if they can get the insurance company to do something; take a new look at something."

Levalley said it's irresponsible to not tell someone to get legal advice on a legal problem. He said many of his clients have turned to the ombudsman's office with no results.

All of this still leaves the homeowner with the sinkhole claim to decide whether or not to hire a lawyer.

Commissioners still want residents to know about the ombudsman option.

Despite the assertions of attorneys, Senator Mike Fasano said the state can guide homeowners through the complicated process of dealing with a sinkhole claim.

The state sinkhole ombudsman is David Fisher. He can be reached at (800) 342-2762.