A Central Florida family said they are being forced to live above a growing sinkhole as they fight their insurance company in court.

The problems began about six years ago, and since then they have been battling the St. Johns Insurance Company to pay their claim.

Family members said they haven't been able to sleep in years out of fear for their safety.

"It's been an absolute nightmare," homeowner Pauline France said.

"I never had anxiety attacks before," the 87-year-old France continued, saying she lives in fear knowing her Maitland home is slowly sinking.

France's last anxiety attack put her in the hospital.

"I sleep with one eye open," said France's son, Jeff Nancarvis. "I am absolutely prepared to grab Mom and run out of this house."

The issues began in 2009, and the family reported them to the insurance company, fearing problems with their foundation. St. Johns then hired the Rimkus Consulting Group to conduct a sinkhole investigation.

"They said there's absolutely no evidence of sinkhole activity," Nancarvis said. "They didn't find anything, denied Mom her claim, but they never had an explanation for the noise."

So, the mother and son stayed in their home as it continued to shake, hum and roar with growing creaks and cracks.

But they couldn't ignore what happened in the fall of 2013.

"All of a sudden, we heard this big boom, and all the pictures were slanted, and we felt the floor kind of give," Nancarvis said.

This time, the family spent thousands of dollars of their own money for another sinkhole investigation.

Sandy Nettles, the geologist who performed the second investigation, said after drilling three holes throughout the property, he discovered a "cover subsidence" sinkhole, which means the limestone was dissolving and cannot support the earth — or the weight of the house.

Nettles' investigation found the sinkhole could be as deep as 70 feet, and could be growing.

The report also stated the original investigation by the Rimkus Consulting Group "failed to identify … the presence of sinkhole activity."

France and her son have hired attorneys to save their house and sue their insurance company.

St. Johns said it sought a third opinion, which found that there was, in fact, sinkhole activity. The company has since offered the family $187,000 for the repairs, but it may not be enough.

"They don't know the extent of it till they start actually doing the repair," Nancarvis said.

The family's policy with St. Johns is worth $350,000, nearly double the insurance company's offer.

"There's no way of knowing how expensive it is, especially after six years," Nancarvis said.

A jury is scheduled to hear all sides in this case on August 31.

Meanwhile, time continues to take a toll.

"The worst is always there," France said. "There's a possibility the sinkhole could open."

The 10 most sinkhole-prone counties in Florida

The Central Florida and Tampa Bay regions are very prone to sinkholes. An alarming insurance information report found all of the top 10 most sinkhole-prone counties are in one of those two areas:

  • 10. Lake
  • 9. Seminole
  • 8. Orange
  • 7. Polk
  • 6. Citrus
  • 5. Pinellas
  • 4. Marion
  • 3. Hillsborough
  • 2. Hernando
  • 1. Pasco

Source: RiskMeter Online


What causes sinkholes?

Sinkholes are depressions or a collapse of the land surface as the limestone below cracks and develops fractures. Acidic waters seeping through the soil lead to the breakdown over long periods of time.

While these types of events often occur after a high accumulation of rainfall in a brief period of time, they can also take place in extremely dry conditions, as the water table below the surface drops or dries out.


What to do if you think you might have a sinkhole

If you think you have a sinkhole on your property:

  • Mark and secure the hole. Keep children and pets away.
  • If the hole is directly affecting the house, stay outside of the dewlling.
  • Call your property insurance adjuster and report it immediately.
  • If the sinkhole causes extensive camage, contact your county's Office of Emergency Management.

If a sinkhole opens in a nearby road:

  • Call the local law enforcement agency immediately.
  • If the road is private, repair is the responsibility of the landowner or the property owner's association.


Take our Sinkhole Quiz

Test your knowledge to see how much you really know about sinkholes in Florida.