City of Jacksonville Rejects Sinkhole Victim Claims | News

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City of Jacksonville Rejects Sinkhole Victim Claims

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was 6 a.m., on a dark Arlington road when it happened.

"I was driving in very, very shallow water, nothing different than any other day it would be raining and suddenly my car was face down in a large sinkhole," said Erin Hunter.

It ruined her day. "It was very frightening, very shocking and I think my misfortune was being the first person to leave the neighborhood," she said.

Hunter said her 2001 Eurovan sat in the sinkhole for two hours, submerged in water.  She said it was declared a total loss, but now she realizes that neither the city nor JEA will claim responsibility. 

"The crew that showed up on the scene was pretty assuring that they would be liable for this," said Hunter.

The sinkhole was caused by a broken water main, but when Hunter filed a claim, it was denied. The reason? The JEA was not negligent and therefore it was not liable.

"We provide information requested by the risk management department and based on that information they make the decision,"  said Gerri Boyce, JEA spokesperson.

Boyce said the utility did not know about the sinkhole until Hunter's car fell into it.

Attorney Eric Friday said the state of Florida and its subdivisions, like the city of Jacksonville, use an old law called sovereign immunity to avoid liability.

That means, "the city is not responsible because you have a problem on the roadway," said Friday.

"A good example is if the JEA had not put down barriers before working on this pipe and someone drove into it, that is an operational function and the JEA might be liable."

Friday said Hunter could sue, but under sovereign immunity, it takes six months to get the legal wheels turning.

He has no relationship with the city nor Hunter and said her recourse now is to appeal to the city or file a claim with her own auto insurance company.

"I would like for them to take responsibility for this financially, but also in terms of the human side of this. I would not want to have to appeal this," said Hunter.          



Hunter said if she files a claim with her auto insurance company, she has to meet a high deductible. She would prefer the city do the right thing.

Friday said the line of responsibility is often blurred, but if the city did not know of the risk beforehand, his advice is to file a claim with the auto insurance company.



Every state and municipality enjoys the use of sovereign immunity.


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