Published: Jan 11, 2011 9:47 PM EST
Updated: Jan 11, 2011 6:52 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Sinkhole claims are the newest challenge for Florida insurers, regulators and lawmakers.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee was told Tuesday that runaway payments on sinkhole claims cost policyholders across the state an average of $120 last year. Sinkhole claims have tripled in the last three years alone with two-thirds coming from a tri-county region in west-central Florida. There were 7,245 such claims in 2009.

Since the last major hurricane hit Florida in 2005, sinkhole claims have skyrocketed, totaling nearly $2 billion in the last four years. Most of the claims have come from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

The Legislature is being asked to eliminate loopholes in the current law.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)