Yesterday, I took the deposition of an engineer and field geologist who had been retained by an insurance company to evaluate the presence of sinkhole activity at my client’s house. The engineering firm performed testing and gave the opinion that there was no sinkhole. However, contrary to the conclusion stated in their report, the actual test results in the report indicated that there was indeed sinkhole activity causing damage to the home. I filed suit against the insurance company for breach of contract.
Interestingly, in its final report, the engineering firm hired by the insurance company wrote that “testing of soil samples was judged to be unnecessary to conduct this study.” However, in his deposition yesterday, the writer of that report, admitted that, contrary to what he wrote in the report, he did indeed test various soil samples with hydrochloric acid. That testing and his test results are documented in handwriting on the boring logs contained in the engineering company’s internal files. HCL testing is the quintessential laboratory test in a sinkhole investigation. The HCL testing was reactive for the presence of the building blocks of limestone, and indicative of dissolved limestone under my client’s residence.
Additionally, the depositions revealed the following:
1. Because of the bad economy and slow construction industry, the engineer works 100% on sinkhole investigations on behalf of insurance companies.
2. My client’s home is in a location where sinkhole’s form. Indeed, there is an approximately 200 foot wide depression consistent with a sinkhole 60 yards west of the home.
3. The damage to my client’s home is the type of damage one sees with a sinkhole.
4. The damage to my client’s home is due to the house “sinking” down, or “subsiding.”
5. My client’s home can only be sinking down for one of two reasons: a) soil compaction; or b) sinkhole.
6. It is the engineer’s “opinion” that the home is sinking because of soil compaction.
7. There are 4 reasons why a home will sink due to soil compaction:
a. Additional Loads being placed on the soil
b. Changes in the stress of soil
c. Vibrations; or
d. Continuing compression, or “creep.”
8. The engineer confirmed that there is no evidence of a., b., or c., but he thought the home was sinking from continuing compression. However, the engineer confirmed that there is no evidence of this continuing compression, other than the cracks in my client’s house. (Cracks which he previously stated were they type of cracks one sees with sinkholes.) Nor, do I believe, did he adequately explain why this compression was occurring now, 30 years after the house was built.
9. The engineer also confirmed the presence of sinkhole “markers,” or “signature” items in the SPT borings including: decreasing “N” values, a loss of circulation of drilling fluid in a soft zone, and a weight of hammer drop.
Accordingly, while the engineering firm has no evidence of soil compression, it has documented ample evidence of what it calls the “signature” of sinkhole activity.
This goes to show us that simply because an insured receives a thick and neatly bound engineering report from the insurance company’s engineer, there may be ways to attack the conclusion that there is no sinkhole activity.