Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here
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Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here

When my husband I decided to start a business, we didn't think about the legal aspects of doing so. We didn't realize that purchasing business insurance, getting building permits and making investments all required some type of legal advice. But after speaking to a close friend, who also happens to own a small business, we contacted a business attorney. Now, we have the legal smarts to make the best decisions for our business, as well as the legal representation in case something happens to our company. I hope that you find my blog helpful and informative for your own business. It's a great resource for finding the legal advice, resources and guidance you need to get your company up and running.

Need Legal Help for Your Business? Find It Here

Determining Liability When The Ground Opens Up And Tries To Swallow You

Ronnie Mills

In the middle of February, a snowplow operator got the shock of his life when the ground collapsed underneath his vehicle as he was pushing snow off the street in a residential area. Although the man was able to escape the sinkhole uninjured, the incident does raise the question of who would be responsible for compensating a person hurt in this type of natural disaster. Unfortunately, arriving at the answer isn't always easy.

The Cause of Sinkholes

Sinkholes are a geological phenomenon caused by the eroding of the soil or rock underneath the surface layer. This can occur suddenly or, more often than not, as the result of continuous erosion over a long period of time. The erosion may occur naturally or as a consequence of human action or inaction.

For example, Los Angeles has had several sinkholes develop in the city because of broken water pipes that needed to be repaired or replaced but weren't. Many of the sinkholes that opened up in Florida were caused by ground water eroding the limestone and dolostone prevalent underneath the surface in the state.

Assigning Liability

Sometimes the fault for the development of a sinkhole is easy to assign. If a construction crew breaks an underground pipe that leads to soil erosion, for example, then you would file suit against the company for the damages caused by their actions.

Another way someone could be held liable is if there were obvious signs of a sinkhole forming, but the responsible party didn't take action to address the issue. For instance, a person's home begins showing symptoms of sinkhole damage, but the homeowner doesn't get the problem fixed. You could sue the individual for damages if you're injured as a result of the person's negligence.

Unfortunately, if the sinkhole is caused by natural forces, then you may not have a case. This is especially true if no one knew there was a problem. You may have to rely on getting payment from your own personal insurance; otherwise, the incident may be chalked up to a random act of God by the court.

Successfully Suing in Court

Sinkholes are particularly troublesome because, unlike other disasters such as earthquakes, there may be no sign of a problem until the moment the ground opens up and tries to eat whoever and whatever happens to be in that spot. This can make it very challenging to successfully sue for damages caused by these geological formations.

There are three different statutes you can use (separately or together) to obtain compensation from sinkhole accidents:

  • Negligence
  • Premise liability
  • Fraud

Which one you'll use depends on the circumstances of the case. For instance, negligence is typically used in situations where the action or inaction of a person, company, or government agency creates the conditions that caused a sinkhole to form. Premise liability is used in cases where the party had a duty to maintain a safe environment on their property but failed to do so. You would sue for fraud in cases where a homeowner or real estate agent sold you a piece of property that was sitting on top of a sinkhole and failed to notify you of that fact.

However, all three of these legal premises require you to prove the defendant knew or had reason to know a sinkhole would form where it did. As noted previously, sinkholes don't always present symptoms before they strike, so this may be difficult to do if there were no warning signs of impending disaster.

If you were injured or suffered property damage because of a run-in with a sinkhole, it's a good idea to connect with a personal injury attorney from a site like who can help you determine liability in your case and develop a strategy for obtaining compensation for your losses.