Whether your car insurance policy will pay for sinkhole-related damages depends on the types of coverage you have on your policy and the kind of damages the sinkhole caused.
If your car was damaged by a sinkhole, chances are that comprehensive or collision coverage would pay for repairs for your vehicle, if you've included them in your policy.
If you were in your car when the accident happened and were injured, your policy would only pay for medical treatment if you have medical payments (med-pay) or personal injury protection (PIP) insurance.
When the Earth Opens Up and Swallows Your Car
Imagine walking out your door to head to work, only to find that the car you were going to use for the commute is gone; it's been swallowed up by a huge hole that mysteriously appeared right in front of your house. Or imagine that you're on your daily commute when the road in front of you suddenly breaks away and opens up; now you're at the bottom of that new hole in the road.
Sound unrealistic? Some drivers have suffered that reality. If you live in an area where the rock below the surface of your neighborhood's roads is the type that can be dissolved by large amounts of water, this improbable scenario could become a startling reality.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 20 percent of the country is susceptible to sinkholes. They're most common in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. In Florida, state research is underway to map out sinkhole locations throughout the state. (The three-year project has already marked the location of dozens of possible sinkholes.)
But they can still occur in places where the sinkhole risk isn't particularly high, like Los Angeles, where a busted water main caused a sinkhole in 2009 that almost swallowed a fire truck
Getting Sinkhole-Related Vehicle Repairs Covered<
In accidents involving two cars or more, the property damage liability policy insuring the driver responsible for the crash would pay for victims' repairs. But since there's no other driver responsible for the damages in this scenario, you'd need to have insurance for property damages to your own car. That comes in the form of comprehensive and collision coverage.
Neither of those types of coverage is required by law, so you check your policy to see if you've included them.
"Generally, collision coverage would apply in a sinkhole scenario because there is an object that was hit, which in this case is pavement within a sinkhole," according to Lynne McChristian, the Florida representative for the Insurance Information Institute.
That applies to sinkhole-related damages that occur when you're driving at the time of the accident.
But if your car was parked when the sinkhole opened up, you'd file a claim under the comprehensive portion of the policy, according to David Thompson, an education instructor and certified property/casualty underwriter for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.
If you want to be 100 percent sure whether you're covered, check with your insurer or agent, even if you do have collision and comprehensive insurance included in your policy.
Getting Sinkhole-Related Hospital Bills Covered
Like with vehicle damages, coverage works differently in a single-car accident versus a multi-car accident where someone else was at fault.
If you were just driving along enjoying your day when your car took an unexpected dive into a sinkhole, you would need med-pay or PIP to have any injuries covered.
Only some states require med-pay or PIP coverage, which cover hospital bills for the driver and usually any passengers involved in an accident, regardless of who caused it. If you want to make sure you'll be covered if you get into a crash caused by a sinkhole, check your policy and consult with your agent.
Should I Add Coverage to My Policy to Protect Me and My Car from Sinkholes?
Purchasing medical payments, comprehensive, and/or collision coverage for the sole purpose of protecting yourself from sinkhole damages would show that you're cautious. But considering the fact that these coverages can account for the bulk of your auto insurance premium, it may not be the best financial decision. However, damage from sinkholes is only one small portion of what these coverage types may cover. And when they work together, you'll end up being covered for a wide variety of damages: from hospital bills from a one-car accident to the replacement of a stolen car to vehicle repairs after damage from a tornado.
So, in the end, adding hundreds of dollars to your policy simply to cover damages from sinkholes may be overly cautious; but purchasing these coverages to get their full range of protections may be a smart financial move. It'll all depend on the cost of the policy, your existing health insurance, and the value of your car.