On Thursday, June 24th, 2021, the unthinkable happened when the Champlain Towers South, a 40-year-old condo building located in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. The catastrophic failure has left at the time of publishing nearly a hundred dead with at least fifty residents still missing. Of course, there are many questions surrounding this horrific tragedy, but the most important one still lingers: could this collapse have been prevented, and where do surviving families and those affected go from here?
Could the Champlain Towers Condo Collapse Have Been Prevented?
While the cause of the collapse is unknown at this moment, in just two week’s time, several sources have come forward citing they alerted the building’s management of significant structure damage, standing water, and cracked concrete. Management companies must maintain a safe environment for residents and employees, including ensuring that dwellings are well-managed both aesthetically and structurally.
Unfortunately, when procedures aren’t followed, tragedy can strike. In this case, the management’s failure to act could be a key factor in this horrific accident that has shaken Florida residents.
Why Structural Integrity Concerns Went Largely Unaddressed
The building itself was going through a “40-year safety certification process” which according to ACG Engineering Services Inc. is “required for buildings 40 years or older that are located in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. An inspection and recertification are repeated every 10 years following the building’s 40th year anniversary.” Broward County created the program in 2005 and it became effective throughout Broward County in January 2006.
“Modeled after Miami-Dade County’s program, which was established in the mid-1970s, Broward’s program calls for structural and electrical safety inspections for buildings 40 years old or older and every ten years thereafter. By having such a program in effect we are minimizing the possibilities of future building failure and will be better prepared for hurricane winds.” Source: broward.org
The minimum guidelines require reporting on elements like walls, cracks, roof, framing systems, rebar corrosion and more. Yet a 2018 report shows there were concerns about the building’s structural integrity even three years ago. It identifies “major structural damage” to the concrete slab the building’s ground-floor pool deck rested on.
The report also highlighted cracked columns and a parking garage that often flooded with corrosive saltwater. Worse, the report goes on to note that many efforts to fix problems like exposed rebar in the parking garage columns also failed. Under the pool deck, “where the slab had been epoxy-injected, new cracks were radiating from the originally repaired cracks,” the report said. The firm responsible for the report, Morabito Consultants, was later hired in 2020 to complete the 40-year safety certification and catalog repairs that needed to be done.
“At the time of the building collapse, roof repairs were underway, but concrete restoration had not yet begun,” a statement from Morabito Consultants said.
More concern remain.
Why Were Residents Ignored?
Additionally, residents have come forward with prior complaints they made about a neighboring construction site. They claimed the noise from the site was causing the building to shake constantly and they were worried about the integrity of their own building. When reviewed, the management company stated they were unable to pursue any action because the construction site in question was just outside of the city’s jurisdiction.
As for concerned residents in similar building types, Mr. Craig M. Goldenfarb, Esq., founding partner of our law firm, was quoted by local CBS affiliate CBS12 on the morning of June 29th, 2021 urging residents to “go to your HOA and demand to review recent inspection reports or structural integrity certification analysis, reviews, or audits.”
More Posts on the Topic: Surfside Towers Collapse – How Could It Have Happened?
While most HOAs regularly perform inspections of buildings, they do not necessarily release the results. HOA’s have an incentive to be secretive and less than forthcoming when it comes to these kinds of issues, as repairs are often costly and mean special assessments must be paid for by residents.
Moreover, insist your HOA is up to date on the latest training and qualifications for the building and residents’ safety. Ask that they properly communicate what they are actively doing to abide by the newest and more relevant guidelines. Associations should take every measure possible to adhere to all procedures and policies that keep communities safe.
What Happens When a Building Collapses
Unfortunately, the Champlain Towers disaster is not an isolated incident. The first recorded building collapse happened in Washington D.C. in 1922 as a result of a build-up of snow on the building’s roof which caused it to cave in on more than 1,000 people. Sadly, the event caused 133 injuries and 93 deaths. Luckily almost 50 years passed without incident – until a luxury condo building in Boston collapsed in 1971 due to cheap, low-quality concrete.
After this event, these tragedies became more frequent with causes ranging from illegal construction, under-researched building techniques and improper foundations.
- New York – Aug. 3, 1973: The University Hotel had a basement that had been illegally altered which was the key in its collapse that killed four.
- Connecticut- April 23, 1987: L’Ambiance Plaza collapse killed 28 and at $41 million in compensation, was one of the largest settlements and sparked a federal investigation into the practice of lift-slab construction.
- California – Jan. 17, 1994: The Northridge area experienced an earthquake which is certainly something unable to be controlled. However, when the Northridge Meadows apartment parking area collapsed onto the first-floor units, it crushed them completely and killed 16 people. What was avoidable is the “soft-story construction,” which is a large open area on the ground floor, are to seismic activity.
- Pennsylvania – June 5, 2013: In a case of gross negligence, a Philadelphia building being demolished fell onto a Salvation Army located next to the site and resulted in six deaths and 14 injuries. Two workers involved were convicted of voluntary manslaughter. A civil case would have certainly followed as the demolition company was a private company.
- Louisiana – Oct. 12, 2019: Unsafe building practices and insufficient structure support was the cause of collapse for The Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans which killed three workers and injured dozens of others.
Source: The Daily News
Sadly, the deadliest incident occurred on July 17, 1981, in Kansas City, MO, when the second and fourth-story walkways inside a hotel collapsed onto the lobby, killing 114 and injuring 200. A deeply tragic story that upon further investigation showed an incredible amount of wrongdoing, mismanagement, and a long list of other issues which could have been easily avoided and saved countless lives. Many engineering classes use this as a case study to examine the safest practices in building and provide training and guidelines to ensure something like this does not occur again.
Florida is no stranger to these occurrences; just three decades ago in Cocoa Beach, The Harbour Cay Condominium building collapsed a mere hours before construction was completed, killing 11 workers and injuring more than 20 people.
The common thread between all of these events is legal action to hold those responsible for injuries and loss of life when a multi-story building collapses. A catastrophic event due to negligence can have a devastating impact on countless lives and it is critical to have accountability through legal action for justice, compensation and peace of mind. Our team of critical injury and wrongful death lawyers at the Law Offices of Craig Goldenfarb, P.A. understand your legal rights and are not only committed to getting you the maximum amount of compensation possible but helping you recover, so your life can move forward as soon as possible.
What is next for the families of the Miami condo tower collapse? Preparation. Due to the delicate recovery and investigative efforts to identify the fault of the collapse may not begin for weeks, months, or even years. It is critical for victims and the family members of victims to hire a lawyer with proven litigation experience. With upwards of 150 victims who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, their family members will need a firm that has a combined 150 years of courtroom experience and hundreds of millions of dollars in gross settlements over the 20 years we have been representing clients.
How Our Team is Prepared to Serve you in High-Profile Wrongful Death Cases
At the Law Offices of Craig Goldenfarb, P.A., our Critical Case team handles our wrongful death claims and clients throughout Florida. Craig Goldenfarb, Esq. personally manages this team, along with his highly-experienced and qualified team of litigators.
Our attorneys are incredibly accomplished, with hundreds of millions of dollars in combined settlements & verdicts, and a sterling reputation for being tough, fair, and thorough with every one of our clients.
Our attorneys are Board-Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Florida Bar, are AV-Rated Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell, and have appeared in SuperLawyers, VerdictSearch, and Attorney at Law Magazine publications. Most of our attorneys have been litigating for 25 years or more.
The Mistakes of Others Can Cost You Your Life
Life is not accident-proof but through the exercise of regular care, basic safety measures, and proper oversite, catastrophes like the Champlain Towers South condo collapse could become more preventable. The incident has left condo-owners and residents with many questions and many more fears.
What Should Occupants Expect from a Building Management?
- Disclose information about safety measures for occupants
- Release any critical information about the building’s structural soundness to residents immediately
- Regular upkeep and repairs as well as cyclical maintenance
How to Determine if a Premise Accident or Wrongful Death is Due to Negligence?
Under Florida law, the property owner or the possessor of the property is liable for injuries that result from a dangerous condition on the property. Owners and possessors owe a duty of care to maintain the property and to protect individuals who enter the property from the unreasonable risk of harm. A case must have four elements to be considered a premise accident of wrongful death:
- Negligence: This includes the carelessness, recklessness or negligent actions exhibited by the defendant.
- Causation: The Plaintiff must prove that damages occurred directly from the negligent action.
- Damages: Quantifiable damages must be generated in order to prove the validity of the case.
- Breach of Duty: Proof that a defendant owed duty to a plaintiff and that that duty was breached is critical. In the case of the Champlain Towers, the building’s management and maintenance crew had the duty to perform all necessary upkeep and repairs to keep the building safe for residents. Their negligence is what most likely caused the preventable collapse.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case?
Some of the most common damages that occur around a Wrongful Death case include:
- Funeral costs
- Medical expenses prior to death
- Lost consortium
- Lost monetary support
- Lost companionship
- Pain and suffering
Our Florida wrongful death attorneys have extensive experience helping the families of wrongful death victims throughout all the counties of Florida. We understand that the grieving period after a loved one passes away is an important time, and legal matters are nowhere near the top of your priority list. However, it is important to act swiftly in retaining legal representation when the decedent’s passing was caused by an act of negligence from someone or something else. That’s because the time period within which you have a right to file a lawsuit is limited.