Action 9 investigates sinkhole insurance battles

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Maitland woman claims her insurance company refuses to pay for sinkhole damage that threatens to swallow her home.

Many public adjusters claim it's the new sinkhole battle that many homeowners are losing.

Betty Clark blames a sinkhole under her Maitland home for a ceiling ready to collapse, buckled concrete floors and walls cracked in two.

Clark said some nights, she can hear it.

"It was like someone dropped a log in a deep well, and I heard it hit bottom," she said.

The home was repaired after sinkhole damage in 2000. Now, Clark is insured with State Farm. Despite a new state law restricting coverage, she still had a full sinkhole policy, but Clark said since filing in January, she can't get answers.

"You pay these high premiums, and then when you need them most, they're not there," said Clark.

Since State Farm was notified about the claim, the damage is worse, but the family said the company has not sent an engineer to do a survey.

Clark's son, Mark Clark, is frantic.

"It's about to collapse, and we have huge cracks," he said.

The family hired public adjuster Ron Livingstone, who has challenged four State Farm sinkhole claims in which he said policies included full coverage.

"They just keep delaying until it goes away, otherwise, they then deny and they defend," said Livingstone.

Livingston said some delays are lowball offers that won't cover damages, but in Betty Clark's case, State Farm claims she didn't disclose the previous sinkhole.

"That is the most ridiculous statement they could ever make," said Betty Clark, who denies withholding any information.

The family hopes the adjuster can win a settlement soon. A month after the sinkhole returned, Clark was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

"She doesn't have much time left, so it's important to me to have everything secure around her," said Mark Clark.

State Farm said anytime there's been earlier sinkhole damage, the process can be delayed and it needs an owner's full cooperation. The company denied its sinkhole denial rates have increased.

Response from State Farm Spokesman Michael Brower:

In keeping with our standard policy of protecting the privacy of our policyholders, State Farm does not typically discuss individual claims on a case by case basis in order to protect the integrity of the process and our customers.

Although I can’t talk specifically about this case in particular, I can say that in general  – once a sinkhole is verified by certified engineers,  the claims process includes steps to remediate and shore up the impacted home per specifications established by a third-party qualified engineer. This engineer determines the steps for necessary and appropriate remediation and repair of the home.

In order to make sure that a home we insure is remediated and repaired appropriately, certain steps are established (under the guidance of an engineer) – and these steps serve to protect the customer by making sure repairs and remediation are completed.

The claims process is dependent upon many factors – including cooperation from the customer and other involved parties – in order to progress forward in a timely manner.

In the handling of all our claims, we are committed to providing the best possible timely service and experience to all customers. We do have procedures in place for all customers that provide a fair and appropriate resource for addressing any issues or challenges that may arise during the handling of a claim.