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Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 9:30 PM by admin

PLANT CITY (Bay News 9) — A Plant City woman in the Trapnell Ridge Community said a sinkhole in her backyard sent her to the hospital.

Carla Davis-Chapman said she started hearing creaks and noticing cracks in her house last December.

She said her insurance company did testing and told her it was safe.

On Friday, Davis-Chapman went to pull a weed up in the backyard and she said the ground caved in underneath her.

“I was going down pretty hard, the ground opened up,” she said. “I slid in and between water, sand the grout, you don’t know what’s going through someone’s mind when something happens like that.”

Davis-Chapman said she spent almost two hours screaming for help and trying to dig her way out of the hole.

She said she was covered with dirt and cuts on both legs.

Neighbors took her to the emergency room but she said the hospital only gave her medication to calm her down.

Chapman said it’s hard to stay calm when she already sees another small hole opening in the yard next door.

Her insurance company is paying to repair the 10-foot-wide by 10-foot-deep sinkhole and will come back out to do more testing.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.

Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 9:16 PM by admin

PLANT CITY – Cindy Kersey was at home alone Jan. 11 when her ranch-style residence started to shudder and shake.

She didn’t know what happened at first, but a sinkhole had opened in her backyard, fracturing the foundation, separating the roof from the walls and sealing several doors.

“My home was totally destroyed,” Kersey said. “But in spite of the trauma and devastating initial shock, after two months, my problems are over.”

Because her Sandalwood Drive home was so severely damaged that it was deemed uninhabitable by city building inspectors, insurance covered her loss. She, her husband, Evan Chrietzberg, and their 15-year-old son, Tulley, are living in a Park Road condominium.

“Now we don’t have to worry about the house, its value, what will happen to us tomorrow, what the city, county, state or insurance company will do or say. We’re the lucky ones,” Kersey said.

“The people who still live in the vicinity of sinkhole are the ones who are suffering. They are the ones I worry about.”

More than 20 homes in Plant City were damaged by sinkholes, including eight that were deemed unsuitable for habitation by city inspectors. The holes opened after growers pumped millions of gallons of water to protect crops from January’s record cold.

Indirectly there are dozens, if not hundreds of homes that will be affected by the sinkholes — both from the threat of damage and a potential decline in values if buyers shun their area.

Della Hernandez, a property owner who lives in Walden Lake East almost 100 yards away from Kersey, is among those who are feeling the pain.

“The biggest problem for me is that no one seems to have a solution,” Hernandez said. “I feel like I’m in limbo. I don’t know if my house is safe or not. Every noise that I hear makes me look to see if my house is damaged. Every night and every day I am afraid of what the future might bring.”

Many of the homeowners who would speak about the sinkhole that destroyed Kersey’s home, and the home next to it, say they discovered surface cracks in exterior walls, sidewalks, porches and terraces.

“Our insurance agent says they could be natural settling,” Hernandez said. “These homes aren’t new but the cracks that we have seen all happened in the middle of January, when that sinkhole showed up.”

Another neighbor, John Inzerillo, one lot farther from the Kersey home, said he has a hole in his backyard where the dirt has sunk out of sight.

“A city consultant came by and stuck a 3-foot long T-shaped steel rod into the hole, and it went all the way down without any effort,” Inzerillo said. “He seemed pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. He said ‘we live in Florida. It’s just a giant sandbar’ he told me.”

Besides the homes on Sandalwood Drive North, two homes have been deemed unfit for habitation on Creek Way Court and one each on Grant Street, Hammock Drive, Oak Lane and Trapnell Grove Loop, city officials said.

City Engineer Brett Gocka said the city can’t help homeowners who are concerned about sinkhole-related damage. The city can only spend money on public rights of way.

“We can’t just go in there and initiate a survey of a sinkhole or depression,” Gocka said. “Perhaps there is a way for a group of homeowners to hire a consultant but that would be a private arrangement. The property owners have to deal with this the best way they can.”

Inzerillo said he isn’t sure what he should do.

“I see cracks in the block walls on my house. I see a crack in my patio that I swear is getting bigger by the minute. I have lost any enthusiasm for continuing to fix up my house. It’s like pouring money down a sinkhole,” he said.

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham asked the county property appraiser to consider giving the homeowners in the area surrounding sinkholes immediate relief from the tax bills.

“The homeowners affected by sinkholes face a lack of support,” Higginbotham said. “The state statute on property taxes says the full amount must be paid for the entire year even if the property value plunges to zero on the home. Sinkhole damage occurred for the most part in mid January. The property appraiser’s office says they are out of luck. But that’s not good enough. I asked the commission to find a way to give tax relief for those homeowners. It’s not over yet.”

Kersey feels fortunate that she was reimbursed for her losses and could move on.

“It’s over for me,” Kersey said. “But I feel sorry for the rest.”

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.

Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 8:56 PM by admin

A Tallahassee-based organization that represents Florida insurers is urging state lawmakers to pass legislation they claim will shore up the property insurance market.

Without passage, the Property Insurers CEOs Group claims that Floridians will end up “saddled with billions of dollars of debt, should a major storm strike the state.”

The group, which comprises CEOs representing 21 insurance companies statewide, held a news conference Wednesday morning to warn that, with just two weeks left before the end of the legislative session, systemwide changes are desperately needed before hurricane season begins June 1.

The group is urging passage of Senate Bill 2044 and House Bill 447, which, among other things, impose a three-year limit on hurricane claims, require that insurance payments be used to repair homes damage by a hurricane or sinkhole, eliminate frivolous sinkhole insurance claims, address fraud and strengthen laws to guarantee the solvency of insurance companies.

Both bills also call for insurance rate hikes, an issue downplayed by the group. Instead, they noted that, if insurers can’t attract enough capital, more Floridians would be dumped into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run property insurer of last resort.

“Floridians would be faced with even higher assessments from Citizens. We simply can’t afford to let that happen,” said Jay Newman, chairman of Davie-based Sawgrass Mutual Insurance Co.

Members said that even though Florida has not had a major hurricane in several years many private property insurers are not building the capital reserves that would be needed should a big storm, or a series of storms, hit the Sunshine State.

“If a catastrophic storm strikes the state, it will be left to residents to pick up the difference in the form of assessments added to their insurance premiums,” the group claims.

The group said that, according to figures from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, 52 state domestic property insurers and the Florida subsidiaries of three national carriers had underwriting losses of $750 million last year, despite the fact that there were no hurricanes.

The group also is calling for public adjusters to be reined in.

“There are many good public adjusters and they serve the public well in terms of language barriers, we recognize and respect that. What we don’t respect is fraud, invented claims,” said Bob Ritchie, CEO of Tampa-based American Integrity.

David Beasley, president-elect of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, said his organization has been working on compromises and agreed language to the legislation that will benefit not only consumers, but also the insurance industry.

“A lot of times, we are painted with a broad brush that doesn’t reflect the best efforts,” he said. “A lot of public adjusters are there to support consumers first. Sometimes, that comes in opposition to carriers.”

Beasley said that, while there are people in any business who “take shortcuts,” his organization has always supported initiatives including tougher licensing and education standards.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.

Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 8:51 PM by admin

With two weeks left in the legislative session, the House held a lengthy meeting Tuesday, passing a large number of bills and paving the way to pass even more later in the week. While most of the measures passed with little, if any, opposition, attempts to reform hate crime laws and a proposal to reform property insurance rates prompted debate and pointed questions.

The House debated a measure adding homeless people to the Florida hate crime statues. The measure passed 80-28.

Sponsored by Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, proponents of the measure said it was needed due to a wave of violence against the homeless in Florida. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, there were 106 attacks on homeless people due to their living conditions in 2009, with 30 of those incidents in Florida.

Emotions ran high during the debate, and after Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, revealed there were dozens of representatives lined up to speak, incoming Minority Leader Ron Saunders of Key West moved to limit debate. Saunders’ motion passed.

“I understand what it means to wash off in a public bathroom and hope nobody knows where you live,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, invoking his personal experiences of sleeping in an office building in St. Petersburg during a move.

Opposition focused on granting the homeless more rights than were afforded to other Floridians.

“This bill is about a new protected class of people,” said Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, who led opposition to the measure.

“This bill treats people unequally,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. “(It) punishes people for their thoughts.”

After amendments and questions Tuesday, the House debated a bill that would allow private insurers to raise residential rates as much as 10 percent. Gov. Charlie Crist has said he would veto any bill that would raise insurance rates.

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, the bill changes property insurance law and allows insurers to raise rates by up to 10 percent higher than the statewide average. The bill eliminates the sinkhole database and reforms laws governing claims on accidents involving sinkholes.

While House Democrats offered some opposition, the Crist administration offered more resistance to Proctor’s measure. Besides the governor’s veto threat, the Office of Insurance Regulation has expressed opposition to the measure.

Later in the afternoon, the chief sponsor of the Senate version, Republican Mike Bennett of Bradenton, pulled the bill from committee.

Other matters sailed through the House. Reforms to the rulemaking authority of the Department of the Lottery, a revamp of the board of trustees of the State Board of Administration, increased penalties for holding open house parties involving minors and alcohol and a measure granting sovereign immunity to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center flew through the House.

Even a bill reorganizing the Department of Health, which generated opposition in committee, moved to third reading with no substantive debate. Introduced by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the legislation reduces the Department of Health’s mission from thirteen to seven responsibilities and would require DOH to propose a new organizational structure, including reduction of divisions and bureaus, to the Legislature by November 2010.

When the measure was in committee, the bill received fierce opposition from Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros and House Democrats. It received far less opposition on the House floor on Tuesday. The bill was amended and was moved to third reading without any debate.

The House has scheduled all-day sessions for the rest of the week.

Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 8:49 PM by admin

The Florida-Based Property Insurers CEO Group, representing 21 carriers, held a media conference today to discuss legislation to address the problems in the state’s property insurance market. The group downplayed the controversial issue of rate hikes while supporting reforms in the areas of what it sees as some of the cost drivers behind losses: sinkholes, public adjuster activities and replacement cost claim payments. The group also supports the managing general agency (MGA) structure and seeks to avoid changes that would hinder the ability to attract capital.

Bob Ritchie, president and CEO, American Integrity Insurance Co., Tampa, speaking on rates, said that the group is most concerned about being able to pass along reinsurance costs in a timely manner. As for other provisions, he said the CEOs support compromise in order to get a bill Gov. Charlie Crist can sign within the next few weeks before the Legislature adjourns.

The CEOs issued the following statement today:

Members of the Florida-Based Property Insurers CEOs Group today called on Florida lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at shoring up the state’s property insurance market or risk saddling taxpayers with billions of dollars of debt should a major storm strike the state. The group warned that time is running out in the current legislative session and that system-wide changes are desperately needed before hurricane season begins on June 1.

“Florida has been lucky to escape the past few hurricane seasons without a major catastrophic storm,” said Bob Ritchie, president and CEO, American Integrity Insurance Co., Tampa. “But good luck isn’t an effective strategy for protecting the people of Florida, their homes and businesses. Good legislation is necessary to allow the industry to continue building the private capital reserves we need to adequately cover Florida.”

Despite four years without a major hurricane, many of Florida’s private property insurers are not building the capital reserves experts say is necessary to protect the homes and businesses they cover following a major hurricane or series of storms. At the same time, large national insurers have reduced their exposure in Florida, leaving the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. as the largest insurer with billions of dollars more in exposure than it has in reserves or reinsurance.

If a catastrophic storm strikes the state, it will be left to residents to pick up the difference in the form of assessments added to their insurance premiums.

Floridians are still paying for damages caused by a 2005 hurricane and will be until 2016. Since 2005, those assessments made on Florida’s taxpayers have amounted to almost $5 billion.

The Florida Legislature is addressing several proposed measures that will address the severe problems in the state’s insurance market. “We thank members in both the House and Senate for their leadership in coming up with solutions to address Florida’s insurance crisis,” said Ritchie.

CS/CS/SB 2044 and CS/CS/HB 447 impose a reasonable, three-year limit on hurricane claims; require that insurance payments are used to repair homes damaged by a hurricane or sinkhole; eliminate frivolous sinkhole insurance claims; address fraud, including improper activities by some public adjusters and mitigation discount verification inspectors; and strengthen laws to guarantee the solvency of insurance company and protect policyholders and provide the Office of Insurance Regulation authority to appropriately supervise managing general agencies (MGAs).

“Though there are some important differences, both the Florida House and Senate bills contain the elements we believe will correct some of the underlying structural problems that are crippling the market,” added Ritchie. “These reforms provide a much stronger foundation on which to rebuild the Florida market.”

The CEOs Group has worked with Florida OIR to craft balanced legislation. OIR is given tools it needs to address questionable behavior by a handful of insurers, while preserving the ability of insurers to attract badly-needed private capital to the Florida market and the country’s greatest hurricane risks.

The MGA structure has been essential in the organization of Florida insurers following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the eight hurricanes of 2004/2005.

“From a national and Florida’s perspective, MGAs are the best and sometimes only way to attract private capital into a hurricane-prone state,” said Tom Jerger, chairman and CEO, Modern USA Insurance. “While effective oversight is always appropriate, it is important to know that we have paid out some $30 billion in claims over the past 10 years, and are a major reason why the state was able to weather the devastating 2004-05 hurricane season.”

Financial reports released by the OIR show that 52 Florida domestic property insurers and the Florida subsidiaries of three national carriers had underwriting losses of three quarters of a billion dollars in 2009, even though there were no hurricanes. The 52 Florida companies alone suffered net losses of $275.4 million, following an underwriting gain of only $34 million in 2008, another year without hurricanes. This is an alarming development that lawmakers are addressing through the reforms being considered this week.

“Florida has substantially more hurricane exposure than any other state in the nation, which is why we need every property insurer and every dollar of insurance capital we can attract,” said Jay Newman, chairman, Sawgrass Mutual Insurance Co. and former Executive Director of Citizens Property Insurance. “This is why there needs to be a balancing act so that ill-conceived regulations don’t drive capital out the state at the very time when we need it most.”

The Florida-Based Property Insurers CEOs Group is comprised of CEOs representing 21 insurance companies across Florida. They protect more than one million homes and manufactured homes in Florida valued at more than $400 billion.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.

Posted on April 21st, 2010 at 3:05 PM by admin

PLANT CITY, Fla.—Volcanoes and earthquakes get all the attention. But what about sinkholes?

Florida is full of sinkholes. Many of its lakes started out as sinkholes. In the sinkhole epicenter, north and east of Tampa, limestone lies under the surface like a layer of stale bread. When a bubble in the bread caves in, the land sinks. A sinkhole ensues.

Evan Chreitzberg’s house in Plant City sank three feet in January; his insurers declared the condemned property a total loss.
Some Florida sinkholes are big, like the one that ate a Winter Park car dealership in 1981. Others lurk underground, causing cracks in driveways. Lately, a large number of sinkholes have been opening beneath houses in a state already beset by underwater mortgages.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage .

Posted on April 21st, 2010 at 3:02 PM by admin

State Rep. Rick Kriseman is a reluctant expert on property insurance.

A fire torched his home. His previous Florida-based insurer faltered. His rates jumped 90 percent in the last year.

And now the St. Petersburg Democrat is sounding an alarm about legislative efforts to revamp the system to benefit property insurers at the expense of customers.

“We are making major decisions that have serious impacts on our citizens without full vetting, and that’s when bad policy comes out,” Kriseman said.

The convoluted issue is often one the last to coalesce in the Legislature, but this year appears especially murky with Gov. Charlie Crist’s possible veto looming over the negotiations.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage .

Posted on April 21st, 2010 at 2:56 PM by admin

Plant City, Florida — “We are coming home April 19,” reads the sign outside Trapnell Elementary School, which has been shut down for three months by sinkhole concerns under the campus.

Monday morning, kids will climb out of cars and empty off buses to return to class at Trapnell for the first time since mid-January.

In January, the beginnings of a sinkhole were discovered underground, near the administrative building and media center.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage .

Posted on April 21st, 2010 at 2:27 PM by admin

The city will have to spend more than $1 million to repair sinkholes that damaged roads and threatened a water tank.

Bids for repairs to sinkhole-damaged Azalea Bloom Drive, Creek Way Court, Concord Way, Kipling Court and Silvermoon Drive ranged from a total of slightly more than $763,000 to $837,000. Bids for repairs to the Mobley and Risk street intersection ranged from $253,000 to $272.000.

The bidders for the roadwork gave the city several options, including separate bids on each project.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage .

Posted on April 14th, 2010 at 2:35 PM by admin

APRIL 6 • Facing substantive sinkhole amendments and other unresolved issues, the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee postponed action on SB 2044, a property insurance reform measure backed by the industry. A flurry of amendments dealing with reimbursement, upfront payments and extensive sinkhole provision proved too heavy to lift for the committee, which will hear the bill next week. Senate sponsor Garrett Richter (R-Naples), requested the delay after opposition rose over sink hole provisions, the subject of another bill that will be addressed Wednesday dealing especially with sinkholes.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage .