Is it Necessary to have sinkhole insurance in Atlanta, Georgia?
With all these news reports about sinkholes in Florida, YOU might be wondering…
Does my home insurance policy cover me for a sinkhole?
AND do we even NEED sink hole insurance right here in good old Atlanta?
First of all what exactly is a Sinkhole?
According to Wikipedia, a sinkhole is a natural depression or hole in the Earth’s surface which may have various causes. They can range from a few feet to hundreds of acres and from less than one to more than 100 feet deep. Sinkholes can contaminate water resources, swallow up swimming pools, parts of roadways, parking lots and even buildings.
They can also be known as a:
- swallow hole
There are two basic causes of sinkholes
Man made causes: Burying construction debris, tree trunks and branches in backyards is one cause.Many Georgia homes built in the 1980’s have sinkholes caused by decomposing garbage. Walter Reeves tells us that builders would bury garbage, tree stumps and branches instead of paying someone to haul it off to a local landfills.
Collapsed abandoned mines is another cause.
Natural Causes: Have YOU ever heard of the term karst processes? These are caused by rain erosion that washes away carbonate rocks, limestone and sandstone. Other times it can result from a collapse of an underlying cave or void.
States like Florida are largely underlain by limestone and so are highly susceptible to sinkholes. When water from rainfall moves down through the soil, these types of rock begin to dissolve and spaces and caverns develop underground.
Droughts can also contribute to sinkholes as well as areas that have had their water levels suddenly lowered.
Is Georgia susceptible to sinkholes?
Experts tell us that 20% of our country has a “karst terrain” and therefore are susceptible to sinkholes.
The states with the most damage from sinkholes are Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
Florida has the most in recent history.
The Florida Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance reported that insurers had received 24,671 claims for sinkhole damage in Florida between 2006 and 2010 totaling $1.4 billion.
That’s an average of nearly 17 claims a day, just in Florida. source
Thankfully Georgia doesn’t make the top 5 list.
Does that mean we are safe here in Atlanta?
Aaron Epstein, of United Consulting in Norcross, says Georgia can get sinkholes but they are normally not as deep as the Florida sinks because of what’s under the ground surface.
He says “Particularly in north Georgia, it’s more like thin, little slots that create an interconnected network where soils can be taken away. But we don’t typically have the massive caverns like they have down in Florida.”
Southern Georgia shares similar topography to Florida, as does the area of northern Georgia around Rome and Cartersville.
Georgia sinkholes in the news
Just recently Lori Woroschuk has had an issue with sinkholes in her back yard. Channel 2 Action News Reporter Tony Thomas attached a camera to a small pole and dropped it into one of the sinkholes he couldn’t reach the bottom of the sinkhole!
On May 20, 2013 CBS news reported that construction Crews in Flowery Branch and parts of Hall County are working to repair several roads that caved in during the storm on Sunday. Many families were LOCKED in because the sinkhole blocked their only exit and entry to the subdivision.
Who can forget Aug 23, 2010 when a 200 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet deep sinkhole Nearly Swallowed an entire Sonic Restaurant in Cleveland, Ga! Thankfully know one got hurt.
This was loaded on Youtube on Sep 27, 2009. Once again it was a heavy rainstorm that caused the sink-hole that swallowed up a car and injured the driver in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
Portions of a 60 year old four-foot square storm drainage pipe that runs 11 feet under her driveway had collapsed. source
Unfortunately not all victims of Georgia sinkholes have gotten away with only minor injuries.
On June 15, 1993 two people were Killed in Atlanta as a Sinkhole swallowed part of a Marriott Hotel parking lot.
Within only a 40-minute period, the downtown area received 3.6 inches of rain.
The immense amount of water caused a 70-year-old drainage pipe under the parking lot to burst causing the sinkhole to form measuring 50 feet deep by 200 feet wide.
Thank God this is not the norm here in Atlanta.
What about sinkholes in the future?
Jim Wallace wrote for WALB 9 March 2013, reports that engineers and public works experts say they expect more South Georgia sinkholes to develop in the coming future.
As long as it rains we will have sinkholes.
“I think we’ve had several call with people concerned they have possible sinkholes on their property,” said Public Works Sewer Superintendent Ann Zimmer-Shepherd.
Experts tell us not to panic though as most of them are too small to cause serious danger.
They also tell us they have never heard of anything like the Florida sinkhole situation happening in South Georgia.
“No there is no need to panic about it,” Zimmer-Shepherd said. “On the other hand if you see the signs of ground that is starting to slough and subside you do need to pay attention to it.”
Will my home insurance cover sinkholes?
That is the question Michael McCormick of Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, asked back on August 28, 2012. He had a sinkhole in his garage! He reports that he hopes his insurance may cover it.
What can YOU do?
Be proactive. All Georgia homeowners should review their insurance policy to make sure their coverage is adequate. If you are not sure then call your local insurance agent.
You might be surprised to learn that most standard Georgia policies do not cover them.
Because of the difference in definition between a sinkhole and catastrophic ground cover collapse, you could technically have a sinkhole in your home and not be covered by your homeowner’s policy.
Many homeowners expect to be protected in these kinds of circumstances but find out all too late that they’re not. source
The best thing any homeowner can do is to call and ask your insurer about adding a sinkhole coverage policy rider.
Don’t be surprised if it is expensive given all of the sink holes in the news.
What else can you do to protect your home?
- Before buying a home hire a home inspector to check for signs of sinkholes or sink-hole damage like cracks in the foundation or walls.
- Consider sinkhole testing.
What should YOU do if you have a sinkhole on your home property in Atlanta?
This sinkhole guide offers the following suggestions:
- If your home is unsafe then evacuate.
- Call your insurance company or agent immediately.
- Call the city or county building inspection department.
- Be responsible and mark the sinkhole or property with DANGER tape to warn others of the danger.
- If you have sinkhole coverage, your insurance company will most likely call for a geological report to find out the cause of the damage.
- If the testing confirms that a sinkhole was the cause, your insurance policy should pay for the testing and repairs, less any applicable deductibles.
- Under certain circumstances, you might be held liable for a portion of the cost of repairs if confirmatory testing proves that the damage was not caused by a sinkhole.
Here are three final tips:
- All homeowners should do annual inspections of the property. Be sure to keep excellent documentation on the home and report any damages that appear immediately to your insurance company.
- “If you notice damage and wait too long to report it, they can actually deny you for not reporting the damage in a timely fashion,” source
- Review Atlanta’s very own Walter Reeves exhaustive list on what you can do to fill small sink holes in your backyard.