* Post updated on 2/5/15 to reflect the potential that one other case “may” have been the first complete defense verdict in a denied sinkhole claim in Pasco County.* The Law Firm of Cole, Scott, & Kissane P.A. recently obtained a complete defense verdict in a “denied” sinkhole claim in Pasco County, part of Florida’s “sinkhole alley.” During the investigation of the underlying claim the insurance carrier retained engineers to conduct sinkhole testing at the property and determine the cause of the damage. The engineers ultimately eliminated sinkhole activity, citing instead to the presence of improper fill materials as well as the decay of organic materials found in the soils within the foundation’s “zone of influence.” Relying on the engineers’ certified and statutorily-complaint opinion, the insurance carrier denied the claim.
Approximately two and a half years later, the insured filed suit and provided a competing engineering report which included additional subsurface testing. As a result, the claim was submitted to neutral evaluation. The neutral evaluator, after conducting even more subsurface testing, ultimately agreed that sinkhole activity could be eliminated as a cause of the damage and that the damage was a result of the decay of organic materials under the foundation.
Undeterred, the insured retained two other highly-credentialed experts who conducted even more subsurface testing and provided sworn opinions that sinkhole activity was present.
After nearly four years of litigation, the case was tried before a Pasco county jury in late January of 2015. Prior to trial commencing, the Court made significant rulings in the Plaintiff insured’s favor, including placing the burden of proof on the insurance carrier consistent with the latest 2nd DCA opinion as well as allowing subsurface data from surrounding properties into evidence. At trial, the jury heard extensive and highly technical testimony from both sides’ professional geologist and geotechnical engineer experts. At the end of the third day of trial, the jury deliberated for approximately 3 hours before returning a verdict in favor of the insurance carrier.
This case represents a rare defense verdict on a “denied” sinkhole case in Pasco County and was the first sinkhole case tried before the new Judge (Sharpe).
Trial team – Aram Megerian (Lead)/William Woods (2nd Chair)
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