(1)(a) Every insurer authorized to transact property insurance in this state must provide coverage for a catastrophic ground cover collapse.
(b) The insurer shall make available, for an appropriate additional premium, coverage for sinkhole losses on any structure, including the contents of personal property contained therein, to the extent provided in the form to which the coverage attaches. The insurer may require an inspection of the property before issuance of sinkhole loss coverage. A policy for residential property insurance may include a deductible amount applicable to sinkhole losses equal to 1 percent, 2 percent, 5 percent, or 10 percent of the policy dwelling limits, with appropriate premium discounts offered with each deductible amount.
(c) The insurer may restrict catastrophic ground cover collapse and sinkhole loss coverage to the principal building, as defined in the applicable policy.
(2) As used in ss. 627.706-627.7074, and as used in connection with any policy providing coverage for a catastrophic ground cover collapse or for sinkhole losses, the term: (a) “Catastrophic ground cover collapse” means geological activity that results in all the following:
1. The abrupt collapse of the ground cover;
2. A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye;
3. Structural damage to the covered building, including the foundation; and
4. The insured structure being condemned and ordered to be vacated by the governmental agency authorized by law to issue such an order for that structure.
Contents coverage applies if there is a loss resulting from a catastrophic ground cover collapse. Damage consisting merely of the settling or cracking of a foundation, structure, or building does not constitute a loss resulting from a catastrophic ground cover collapse.
(b) “Neutral evaluation” means the alternative dispute resolution provided in s. 627.7074.
(c) “Neutral evaluator” means a professional engineer or a professional geologist who has completed a course of study in alternative dispute resolution designed or approved by the department for use in the neutral evaluation process and who is determined by the department to be fair and impartial.
(d) “Primary structural member” means a structural element designed to provide support and stability for the vertical or lateral loads of the overall structure.
(e) “Primary structural system” means an assemblage of primary structural members.
(f) “Professional engineer” means a person, as defined in s. 471.005, who has a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering. A professional engineer must also have experience and expertise in the identification of sinkhole activity as well as other potential causes of structural damage. (g) “Professional geologist” means a person, as defined in s. 492.102, who has a bachelor’s degree or higher in geology or related earth science and experience and expertise in the identification of sinkhole activity as well as other potential geologic causes of structural damage.
(h) “Sinkhole” means a landform created by subsidence of soil, sediment, or rock as underlying strata are dissolved by groundwater. A sinkhole forms by collapse into subterranean voids created by dissolution of limestone or dolostone or by subsidence as these strata are dissolved.
(i) “Sinkhole activity” means settlement or systematic weakening of the earth supporting the covered building only if the settlement or systematic weakening results from contemporaneous movement or raveling of soils, sediments, or rock materials into subterranean voids created by the effect of water on a limestone or similar rock formation.
(j) “Sinkhole loss” means structural damage to the covered building, including the foundation, caused by sinkhole activity. Contents coverage and additional living expenses apply only if there is structural damage to the covered building caused by sinkhole activity.
(k) “Structural damage” means a covered building, regardless of the date of its construction, has experienced the following:
1. Interior floor displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 117-90 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the interior such that the interior building structure or members become unfit for service or represents a safety hazard as defined within the Florida Building Code;
2. Foundation displacement or deflection in excess of acceptable variances as defined in ACI 318-95 or the Florida Building Code, which results in settlement-related damage to the primary structural members or primary structural systems that prevents those members or systems from supporting the loads and forces they were designed to support to the extent that stresses in those primary structural members or primary structural systems exceeds one and one-third the nominal strength allowed under the Florida Building Code for new buildings of similar structure, purpose, or location;
3. Damage that results in listing, leaning, or buckling of the exterior load-bearing walls or other vertical primary structural members to such an extent that a plumb line passing through the center of gravity does not fall inside the middle one-third of the base as defined within the Florida Building Code;
4. Damage that results in the building, or any portion of the building containing primary structural members or primary structural systems, being significantly likely to imminently collapse because of the movement or instability of the ground within the influence zone of the supporting ground within the sheer plane necessary for the purpose of supporting such building as defined within the Florida Building Code; or
5. Damage occurring on or after October 15, 2005, that qualifies as “substantial structural damage” as defined in the Florida Building Code.
(3) Insurers offering policies that exclude coverage for sinkhole losses must inform policyholders in bold type of not less than 14 points as follows: “YOUR POLICY PROVIDES COVERAGE FOR A CATASTROPHIC GROUND COVER COLLAPSE THAT RESULTS IN THE PROPERTY BEING CONDEMNED AND UNINHABITABLE. OTHERWISE, YOUR POLICY DOES NOT PROVIDE COVERAGE FOR SINKHOLE LOSSES. YOU MAY PURCHASE ADDITIONAL COVERAGE FOR SINKHOLE LOSSES FOR AN ADDITIONAL PREMIUM.”
(4) An insurer offering sinkhole coverage to policyholders before or after the adoption of s. 30, chapter 2007-1, Laws of Florida, may nonrenew the policies of policyholders maintaining sinkhole coverage at the option of the insurer, and provide an offer of coverage that includes catastrophic ground cover collapse and excludes sinkhole coverage. Insurers acting in accordance with this subsection are subject to the following requirements:
(a) Policyholders must be notified that a nonrenewal is for purposes of removing sinkhole coverage, and that the policyholder is being offered a policy that provides coverage for catastrophic ground cover collapse.
(b) Policyholders must be provided an actuarially reasonable premium credit or discount for the removal of sinkhole coverage and provision of only catastrophic ground cover collapse.
(c) Subject to the provisions of this subsection and the insurer’s approved underwriting or insurability guidelines, the insurer shall provide each policyholder with the opportunity to purchase an endorsement to his or her policy providing sinkhole coverage and may require an inspection of the property before issuance of a sinkhole coverage endorsement.
(d) Section 624.4305 does not apply to nonrenewal notices issued pursuant to this subsection.
(5) Any claim, including, but not limited to, initial, supplemental, and reopened claims under an insurance policy that provides sinkhole coverage is barred unless notice of the claim was given to the insurer in accordance with the terms of the policy within 2 years after the policyholder knew or reasonably should have known about the sinkhole loss.
1Note.—Section 21, ch. 2011-39, provides that:
“The Legislature finds and declares:
“(1) There is a compelling state interest in maintaining a viable and orderly private-sector market for property insurance in this state. The lack of a viable and orderly property market reduces the availability of property insurance coverage to state residents, increases the cost of property insurance, and increases the state’s reliance on a residual property insurance market and its potential for imposing assessments on policyholders throughout the state.
“(2) In 2005, the Legislature revised ss. 627.706–627.7074, Florida Statutes, to adopt certain geological or technical terms; to increase reliance on objective, scientific testing requirements; and generally to reduce the number of sinkhole claims and related disputes arising under prior law. The Legislature determined that since the enactment of these statutory revisions, both private-sector insurers and Citizens Property Insurance Corporation have, nevertheless, continued to experience high claims frequency and severity for sinkhole insurance claims. In addition, many properties remain unrepaired even after loss payments, which reduces the local property tax base and adversely affects the real estate market. Therefore, the Legislature finds that losses associated with sinkhole claims adversely affect the public health, safety, and welfare of this state and its citizens.
“(3) Pursuant to sections 22 through 27 of this act, technical or scientific definitions adopted in the 2005 legislation are clarified to implement and advance the Legislature’s intended reduction of sinkhole claims and disputes. Certain other revisions to ss. 627.706–627.7074, Florida Statutes, are enacted to advance legislative intent to rely on scientific or technical determinations relating to sinkholes and sinkhole claims, reduce the number and cost of disputes relating to sinkhole claims, and ensure that repairs are made commensurate with the scientific and technical determinations and insurance claims payments.”