A sinkhole is a dangerous natural disaster in which the surface land suddenly collapses from the dissolution of underlying rocks and subsurface. Sinkholes often appear without warning, opening a hole in the ground that may have been forming for months or years. A sinkhole can swallow up homes and vehicles, as well as cause life-changing personal injuries and deaths. Sinkholes are relatively uncommon in Arizona, but they can happen. Learning about what causes sinkholes, how to respond to injuries and who might be responsible can help a victim move forward after this disaster.
How Do Sinkholes Happen?
Most sinkholes start as natural ground depressions. Rainwater has no way to drain within the depression, so it sits on the service and eventually gets absorbed into the depression’s subsurface. Over time, this lack of drainage may dissolve the underlying rock and subsurface materials if they are dissolvable, such as limestone, salt or gypsum. Groundwater circulating through these rocks can break them up over time to create large underground caverns or empty spaces.
The surface ground above these caverns often stays intact for a while, then suddenly collapses when the space underneath grows too large. The sudden collapse is why sinkholes are so abrupt and dangerous. Although sinkholes are not the most common natural disaster in Arizona (wildfires are the most common), the state has a lot of ground materials made of sandstone, limestone, siltstone, and other soft sands and rocks that could dissolve and erode in heavy rainfall.
The slightest amount of pressure on surface land above a cavern that has formed can collapse a sinkhole. Sinkholes in Arizona can range from a few to several hundred feet deep. Many sinkholes are undetectable, but it may be possible to predict others with signs such as cracked building foundations and sidewalks, slight dips in the ground, and leaning buildings or trees. If anyone notices a potential sign of a sinkhole, he or she should call 911 to report a potential emergency right away.
Types of Injuries Common in Sinkhole Disasters
When a sinkhole opens beneath a home, vehicle or person in Arizona, it can cause life-threatening injuries. The initial fall to the bottom of the sinkhole can cause severe impact injuries and may render the victim unconscious. Many sinkholes also fill with water, potentially trapping and drowning victims. If a sinkhole collapses a house, a victim could suffer serious injuries or die in the falling structure. After any type of serious injury from a sinkhole, a victim should receive medical care, keep medical records and speak to an attorney about bringing a claim.
- Bone fractures
- Muscle sprains
- Traumatic head and brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Back and neck injuries
- Internal organ injuries
After suffering serious injuries in a sinkhole disaster in Arizona, a victim should document his or her experience and try to understand what might have caused the sinkhole. While the collapse might have stemmed from a true natural disaster, the possibility exists that a negligent person or company caused the sinkhole to form. A law firm can investigate the sinkhole to determine its true cause.
Is Someone Responsible?
Human activity can cause sinkholes in Arizona. Negligent and improper excavation work, utility work and drilling/pumping could lead to the formation of a deadly sinkhole. Extracting too much groundwater, for example, could deplete the space and form a cavern. Negligently burying debris or improperly compacting soil after excavating an area could also create sinkholes. Old and damaged sewer lines and septic tanks could cause sinkholes if they break and collapse inward.
If a person or company reasonably should have prevented the formation of a sinkhole, that entity may be legally and financially responsible for victims’ damages. The at-fault party may owe victims compensation for their medical bills, physical injuries, missed time at work and property losses. Sinkhole victims in Arizona should hire personal injury attorneys to investigate the cause of the disaster. If the sinkhole traces back to negligent human activity, victims may be eligible for financial compensation.