PhotoSometimes it's what you're not expecting that winds up causing the most damage. Take sinkholes, for example. We all know about tornadoes, hurricanes and fires but, really, who expects his house or car to fall into a sinkhole?

Sure, it's rare but it does happen. And it often brings with it an unpleasant surprise -- sinkhole damage may not be covered in your homeowners insurance.

There's only one sure way to find out, and that's to read your policy carefully. This is, of course, easier said than done since policies often appear to be written in the most obtuse language possible.

In Florida, the state with the dubious distinction of being the nation's sinkhole leader, the state requires insurers to cover  “catastrophic ground cover collapse,” but state regulators warn that not every catastrophic ground cover collapse is a sinkhole.

The logic may be a little hard to follow but, basically, if your home is damaged by a ground collapse but is not condemned as uninhabitable, the damage may not be covered by your policy. However, Florida requires all insurers to offer sinkhole coverage at an extra charge, so that may be worth looking into. 

Other states don't seem to have thought through the problem quite as extensively. In Baltimore, a street collapsed into a sinkhole yesterday, taking many cars with it. Several homes were evacuated and it's not yet known if they sustained severe damage.

As for the cars, city officials had little advice to offer and suggested the motorists contact their insurance companies.

Sinkholes occur worldwide but are most common in areas with a long history of erosion, or those with an abundance of caves and abandoned mines or tunnels. They also occur frequently in urban areas, where water mains and sewers may break and undermine the ground surface.

If your home falls into any of these categories, it may be wise to talk to your insurance agent and, if you're not satisfied with the answers, contact your state insurance commission for more answers. 



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