The collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, is one of the most tragic recent news stories in the United States. The 12-story condo complex collapsed in late June 2021, causing a plethora of injuries and nearly 100 casualties. In addition, the collapse raises serious questions regarding the safety of other buildings, where responsibility for preventing such a collapse lies, and compensating those harmed.
Fear of More Building Collapses Due to Climate Change
As of the date of this white paper, the exact cause of the Surfside collapse is unknown. There are a variety of factors ranging from structural defects to environmental influences such as corrosion of the that could be to blame. It is possible that there was no single cause, but that a combination of factors combined to lead to the collapse of the building.
Several experts have speculated that environmental factors may be the root cause. Some of the environmental influences experts have pointed to are possible corrosion of the building’s columns, rebar, reinforced concrete, and frequent flooding due to sea-level rise and possible land sinkage.
The possible environmental link raises serious concerns about an increasing number of structural collapses as climate change continues to expose buildings to harsher, more persistent conditions than ever before.
Experts and planners across the country are working hard to discover the cause of the Champlain Towers South collapse and develop new best practices for building new structures and maintaining older structures to prevent future harm. However, there is no clear course of action yet.
Legal Liability for the Champlain Towers South Collapse
The Champlain Towers South case can be looked at to understand how lawsuits in these types of cases work. However, every case is unique. Even situations that seem very similar, such as building collapses, may need different legal approaches. It should also be noted that in these types of cases, multiple insurance companies are often involved, further adding to the legal complexities.
Condo Association Liability
Several lawsuits have already been filed against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Inc., for failing to ensure the building’s safety. Recovering damages in these cases is possible by establishing that the condominium association was negligent in its duties to ensure the continued structural integrity of the building and that negligence led to the building’s collapse.
Most of these claims will be based on premises liability for the physical injury of a victim or wrongful death of a loved one. The condominium association’s negligence can be established in a variety of ways. For example, it may have been negligent in hiring the wrong contractor to build the condominium by failing to do its due diligence when looking into the contractor’s background. It also may have been negligent in its failure to properly inspect the building regularly.
All that is needed to prove negligence on the part of the condominium association is that the association owed a duty to the people inside of the building and that the association failed in properly performing that duty.
Possible Liability of Other Parties
Though the first lawsuits filed in response to the condominium collapse were against the condominium association responsible for its everyday operations, other parties may be responsible for the collapse, too. These other parties may be added to the existing lawsuits, or additional personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits may be brought against them. This is not an exhaustive list; lawsuits like those filed in the Champlain Towers South case often include many defendants, but rather just some of the most likely candidates to be added to the lawsuit.
The contractor responsible for building the condominium may be added as a defendant to the case if some sort of negligence on their part can be established. Being located near the beach, several factors needed to be considered and accounted for by the contractor. For one, the land upon which the condominium was built was not as sturdy as most other plots of land due to its proximity to the coast. Additionally, salt water can affect the structural integrity of the building as well as the frequency of severe weather.
If it can be established that the contractor cut corners in the building or used subpar material for the job and that these actions directly led to the collapse of the building, they can be held responsible for the injuries and deaths that resulted from the building’s collapse. For example, if the contractor engaged in the too common regional practice of mixing sand in with concrete, or directing those under his supervision to do so, liability could attach.
The architects responsible for designing the building may also be added to the suit and held responsible if they were negligent. If it can be shown that the architects failed to take reasonable care when designing the building, they can be held liable. Like contractors, architects have a duty to the future inhabitants of the buildings they design.
Specifically, architects have a duty to design a building that will not collapse and cause wrongful death or catastrophic injury to those inside the building. If it can be established that the architects failed to take reasonable care when designing the building, and a design defect caused the collapse of the building, they can be held liable for the wrongful deaths and catastrophic injuries that may have occurred as a result of the collapse.
Engineers that had anything to do with the building are also potentially liable for the collapse. This could be engineers responsible for approving the building when it was originally being built or engineers that were responsible for inspecting the building, regularly looking for potential issues.
The engineers responsible for regularly inspecting the building have the largest probability of being liable for the wrongful deaths and injuries that result from the building’s collapse. These inspectors must be aware that being near a large body of water can cause moisture to weaken the structural integrity of the buildings they inspect. Failing to properly perform their duties resulting in leaving severe structural damage undetected can open them up to liability.
Although the outcome is egregious, several possible defenses may be invoked by defendants in the Champlain Towers South case. Florida’s 10-year statute of limitations (deadline for filing suit) for certain types of building defect claims may be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome, especially given the age of the Champlain Towers South condominium, which was built in 1981.
Obtaining Justice in a Similar Case
Unfortunately, the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside is not the only building to collapse and cause injury in the United States, just the most recent. In 2013, a Salvation Army store partially collapsed in Philadelphia and claimed the lives of seven individuals. The partial collapse was caused by negligence on the part of two contractors who were demolishing a nearby building. These two contractors, along with other defendants, were liable for the injuries and deaths that resulted in the partial collapse of the Salvation Army Store.
Marrone Law Firm, LLC successfully represented clients in the Salvation Army Building collapse, including the family of one of the decedents. A 59-year-old man with asthma and a pre-existing heart condition survived the collapse after being trapped in the rubble for one hour, but died 23 days later. The man’s heart condition was stable before the collapse, and its severity was increased as a result of the incident. The defendants were liable for the death because, without the incident, the man’s condition would not have caused his death when it did. The building’s collapse was an indirect cause of wrongful death here because it exacerbated a pre-existing condition.
The claims of all those harmed and killed in the Salvation Army building collapse claim, including the clients represented by Marrone Law Firm, resulted in a $227 million settlement, making it the largest personal injury settlement in Pennsylvania history.
The Marrone Law Firm Can Help
If you or someone you love was injured due to a structural defect in a building, it may be time to consult an attorney. This type of building defect may lead to substantial claims against the owner of the building, the contractor, the engineers, the architect, or a combination.
Following a condo building collapse, the strength of a lawsuit relies heavily on if you or a loved one suffered serious injury or wrongful death due to the collapse. However, you should never assume that you do not have a claim just because you did not experience a serious physical injury. In some cases, emotional injury—even if it’s coupled with minor injury—may be sufficient. As a result, your claim can be worth more than you’d expect.
You should consult with an attorney immediately if you are involved in a building collapse. This can be whether you were in the building at the time of the collapse or simply close by. You may even have a claim if you had personal property that was destroyed as a result of the collapse that your insurance carrier may not cover.
The idea of going up against a large contractor, building owner, and notoriously aggressive insurance companies may be overwhelming. That’s what we are here for.
The Marrone Law Firm, LLC has experience successfully fighting for clients who were directly and indirectly injured as a result of a building collapse. Our team has the resources necessary to help you recover the compensation you deserve from these large corporations.
Call us today at (866) 732-6700 to schedule your free initial consultation. To learn more about our firm and keep up to date on the law, visit our website, browse our Facebook, or follow our Twitter account.