U.S. District Court Ruling on Application of the Term "Structural Damage"

Earlier this year, we blogged about the legislative changes to the definition of “structural damage” in Florida’s sinkhole statutes. In short, the definition was changed in order to require some foundational distress to the building instead of requiring some kind of physical damage to the structure in order to successfully file a sinkhole claim. Qualifying for a sinkhole claim under this new definition makes it somewhat more difficult for a claimant in a sinkhole case, but speak to an attorney at Robert Sparks Attorneys if you think you have a sinkhole claim on your property.

As a result of the new definition of “structural damage” being instituted into Florida law in May of 2011, many insurance companies have tried to retroactively apply the definition to sinkholes that occurred prior to May of 2011. The insurance companies argue that the change in the definition applies to all sinkhole cases because the new definition only clarifies the previous definitions of “structural damage.” In the recent decision of Zawadski v. Liberty Mutual, the U.S. Middle District Court of Tampa ruled that the legislative change to the definition of “structural damage” did more than just clarify the previous definition. The Court ruled that it substantively changed the law and that a substantive change in law cannot be applied retroactively in insurance cases because it changes the rights and responsibilities of the insurance policy. The Court said that to apply the new law retroactively would unconstitutionally infringe on the benefits that the insured signed up for under their policy with the insurance company.

What this decision means for your sinkhole case is that if you filed a sinkhole claim with a date of loss prior to May of 2011, or if your policy was entered into prior to May of 2011 and your claim has been denied because your loss does not meet the new definition of structural damage, you may still have a case against your insurance company. Speak to an attorney at Robert Sparks Attorneys if your sinkhole claim has been denied for not meeting the definition of “structural damage” for a free evaluation of your case facts.