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Action 9 investigates sinkhole coverage

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida legislators changed state law to greatly reduce homeowners’ insurance coverage if a sinkhole damages their property.

Sheryl Smith said she fears a sinkhole could swallow her Marion County home.

The foundation has cracked wide open, there are walls detached from ceilings, doors that are hard to close and windows you can't open. 

But Smith said the insurance company denied her sinkhole claim for a home she's afraid to live in.  

"I'm wondering, is something going to happen to me or my house? This is all I have, you know?" said Smith.

If it happened earlier, odds are the insurance company would have covered the damages. But last year, a new Florida law made it harder for most homeowners to win sinkhole insurance claims.

That new law requires an abrupt land collapse, structural damage and a home that's condemned to qualify for sinkhole coverage included on every policy.           

In a notice, Florida Peninsula Insurance said it denied Smith’s claim because there was no structural damage from a sinkhole.

"That hurt the people who really need it, and I'm one of the people who really need it," said Smith.

Kerei Alexander is a licensed engineer, and Action 9 asked her to inspect Smith’s home. 

Smith’s report identified a catastrophic foundation failure and found the home not safe to live in. She said it's not minor settlement cracks.

"It's significant enough that I would be concerned that the right side of the house could fall off," said Alexander.

Alexander also recommended a sinkhole engineering specialist to confirm her findings.        

Florida Peninsula said it can't comment, but it did tell Action 9 Smith’s case is now an open investigation and that initial denial is being reviewed.

"I paid it, it should be covered. Or why have it," said Smith.

Smith is now living in a motel until she feels the home is safe.

The state has a mediation program to review denials.  You can add basic sinkhole coverage for noncatastrophic repairs, but it's expensive.

LINKS: Sinkholes: What Every Floridian Should Know | Settling Your Claim