Visitor Question

Liability for vehicles totalled in sinkhole on rental property?

Submitted By: M (Florida)

I’m renting a mobile home in Pace, Florida. On the night of 4/28 a sinkhole opened under my 2 vehicles on the landlord’s road, totaling both cars. My car insurance is not helping and FEMA is not helping either.

Would the landlord be responsible in any way for the damage? I told them about what happened, but they said their insurance doesn’t cover it and they are not responsible. I have never been in a situation like this and really need some information as to how to go about getting help. Thanks.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear M,

Standard property liability insurance policies do not cover damage caused by sinkholes. Most insurance policies exclude such coverage under either “act of god” occurrence, or an “earth movement” occurrence.

This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue a negligence claim against the property owner. It just means his or her insurance company may not indemnify for such an occurrence. In that case, your cause of action would be against the property owner’s personal assets.

To succeed in such a claim you would have to prove the landowner was negligent. Moreover, you you would have to connect the negligence to your property damage.

For example, you would have to show the property owner knew, or should have known, the property rented to you was in imminent danger of succumbing to a sinkhole, and with that knowledge the property owner still failed to warn you, or take action to keep your property from being located on, or near the potential sinkhole site.

This will be a challenge. In most cases, especially in Florida, sinkholes occur with little or no advance warning. As a result, most property owners are unaware of a sinkhole until the sinkhole actually appears.

Unfortunately, your own car insurance policy may also exclude coverage for damage to your vehicles caused by act of god or earth movement. If, in the alternative, your policy does cover such a event, you would be best served filing a claim with your own insurance company.

Such a claim should not be held against you, as you did not contribute to the property damage.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: May 20, 2014

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