Yes – within a week there were already five lawsuits filed against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association relating to the building collapse. Some of those lawsuits also named Morabito Consultants and SD Architects as defendants, both firms that inspected or consulted on the condo tower’s stability.
The Champlain Towers South building, a 12-story condominium, collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24, 2021. The incident resulted in the deaths of 98 residents, most of whom were in bed sleeping at the time of the collapse.
Investigations into the cause of the collapse are ongoing. It wasn’t long before videos of water leaks and other potential warning signs were posted on the internet. Architectural firms and engineering inspectors have since claimed to have given warnings to the condo association that they allege went unheeded.
As of now the cause of the collapse remains unclear. The results of the investigation will hopefully accomplish at least two important goals:
There are more parties with potential claims than may be obvious at first. These include:
People who lost loved ones in the building collapse undoubtably have the most pressing claims, but financial institutions and condo owners who weren’t there at the time have legitimate grievances as well. Their property and assets were potentially destroyed due to oversight and safety failures that allowed the collapse to occur.
The condo collapse lawsuits will be both premises liability and wrongful death cases. There are many factors involved that could affect the outcome.
As with any premises liability lawsuit, the plaintiff will need to show:
Some of the defendants may attempt to argue they didn’t know there was an inevitable risk of collapse. Although the condo association may have known there were problems with the building, they may argue they could not have reasonably known there was a risk for complete collapse or that the danger was imminent.
How effective that argument will be if they attempt it will likely depend on the other defendants. If the architecture and engineering firms they worked with allege that they did in fact warn the condo association that collapse was a likely outcome, it may make the defense difficult.
It may also be hard for those firms to defend themselves if there were obvious signs of problem that they didn’t report.
Judge Michael Hanzman awarded the first of what will likely be many waves of compensation to victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse on July 22, 2021. The award – $150 million – came from the expected $100 million sale of the property itself as well as $50 million from the property’s insurance.
The $150 million is separate from the lawsuits that have been filed in the wake of the collapse.
Evidence is the most vital asset for plaintiffs in any personal injury or wrongful death case. That’s why there are always legitimate concerns about defendants and their legal representatives destroying or obfuscating evidence of what happened.
The same Miami-Dade circuit judge who awarded the initial compensation to the families has also ordered Miami-Dade County to pass control of the Champlain Towers South building collapse site to a court-appointed attorney. Local justice officials don’t want to be put in a position where they could be accused of allowing or facilitating the despoiling of evidence. Even the appearance of allowing the truth to be buried can potentially expose officials and Miami-Dade County to more liability.
It’s possible all of the individual wrongful death claims brought by surviving family members will be consolidated into a single class-action lawsuit. Class-action lawsuits serve an important purpose in personal injury law. They prevent the justice system from being bogged down by potentially hundreds of separate lawsuits and they allow the victims to pool their resources in what may be a tough fight against large insurance companies with deep pockets.
Policy limits can be a huge problem in many personal injury cases. They often limit the compensation injured people can receive for their medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. The condo association only had a $50 million policy limit, but the wrongful death and property damage attorneys representing victims of the condo collapse suggest all the plaintiffs deserve nearly a billion dollars of combined compensation.
This has unfortunately led to disputes between condo owners who only lost property and people who have lost loved ones.
It’s still too early to tell. Large cases like these with more than a hundred plaintiffs and several potential defendants can take years to settle or try in court. What is clear is the legal battle is far from over.