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In the early hours of June 24, 2021, residents of the Champlain Towers South Condominiums in Surfside, Florida woke to a nightmare scenario: a large portion of their apartment building had begun to collapse.
Some residents managed to escape, but many did not. The latest counts report 12 confirmed dead, and 149 still missing. As of June 30th, rescue crews are continuing to dig through the rubble of the building for survivors.
In the event of catastrophic tragedies, our first instinct is rightly to aid the survivors, mourn the dead, and comfort the grief-stricken. As the dust settles, however, questions of culpability start to emerge: how was this allowed to happen? Who might be responsible, and how will they be held accountable?
Pending investigation, the tragedy at Champlain Towers may prove a striking example of what happens when residential buildings are not maintained properly and building owners fail to meet their legal duty of care. In matters of apartment complex negligence, a South Florida personal injury lawyer can ensure that relevant information is made transparent and that victims receive some measure of justice and compensation.
Not all such tragedies are the result of negligence, of course. The cause of the apartment collapse is still being investigated and remains to be determined. Some early evidence of major structural concerns with the Champlain Towers South has emerged, however.
The city of Surfside recently released a contractor report on the Champlain Towers South building, conducted in 2018 by Morobito Consultants. Forwarded to members of Champlain Towers South Condo Association, the report cited a number of serious structural problems that required prompt attention and repair.
Specifically, the report claims the waterproofing membrane beneath the building’s ground-level swimming pool and entrance drive had begun to fail. Leaking water was causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”
Beneath the slab lay part of the building’s underground parking garage. There, contractors found “abundant cracking and spalling of varying degrees…observed in the concrete columns, beams, and wall,” as well as “exposed, deteriorating rebar.” (“Spalling” here means flaking and crumbling concrete.)
While the report doesn’t warn of imminent danger of collapse, the contractors asserted these problems threatened the Champlain Tower South Building’s structural integrity. “Extensive” repairs should be conducted promptly, the report says.
The Condo Association was preparing for a repair project in June 2020, in part informed by the above-mentioned report, according to the New York Times. Work had already begun on the building’s roof, but concrete restoration at the lower levels had not yet started before it collapsed.
It is important to note that these structural issues have not been conclusively determined to have caused the building’s collapse. Nor do they yet prove that any party — including the Condo Association, Morobito contractors, or original designers — bear any or all blame for this tragedy. Experts say it could take months of investigation to come up with a definitive answer to the question of why the building collapsed.
Florida personal injury lawyers are already at the forefront of this investigation. In the wake of this tragedy, victims and the loved ones of victims have begun filing lawsuits seeking justice for those affected. At least three have been filed so far — including two class-action suits — with more personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits likely to follow.
According to CNN, each of the three suits names the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association as the defendant. One class-action complaint asserts the association failed in its legal duty to keep the apartment building safe and well-maintained.
“Despite the obvious duties required by Florida law, and this admitted duty of care by the Association’s Declaration and other governing documents, Defendant, through their own reckless and negligent conduct, caused a catastrophic deadly collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside,” the complaint reads.
One class-action suit seeks an unspecified amount of money and a jury trial, while another seeks $5 million in compensation. At the time of this writing, both are in the early stages of investigation and discovery.
The lawsuits filed by the Champlain Towers South victims are examples of apartment complex negligence lawsuits. Owners of apartment buildings bear certain legal obligations to keep both their tenants and tenant’s visitors from harm. If they fail to meet this standard, they may be found liable for negligence in civil courts.
Florida law dictates that all landowners have a duty of care to maintain a safe environment for anyone invited onto their property. For apartment owners, these obligations include both reasonable maintenance and security measures for tenants and their guests.
That might mean anything from salting icy stairs to repairing foundations to installing lights in dark parking lots. If the owner cannot amend a dangerous situation within a reasonable timeframe, they are legally obligated to warn individuals on the property.
Property owners may also be found liable for third-party crimes resulting from their negligence. For example, they may be found liable if an improperly installed lock results in a home invasion or burglary of a tenant’s apartment.
When property owners fail to meet this duty of care, their actions — or inaction — can result in
property damage, serious harm, or even death for individuals living or visiting there.
Apartment complex negligence lawsuits can hold owners financially responsible for damages incurred by their failure to meet reasonable safety standards. These suits can also help victims be rightfully compensated for a variety of damages, like medical bills, lost income, and emotional distress.
No lawsuit could ever undo the harm caused by tragedies like the Champlain Towers South. What they can do is ensure such incidents are thoroughly and transparently investigated, the responsible parties held to account, and the victims justly compensated.
Unfortunately, owners are often financially incentivized to cut corners on maintenance and security, and it is their tenants who eventually pay the price.
If you are a tenant who believes their property owner has failed to meet their obligation to keep their property safe, the Law Office of Andrew Winston is here for you. Our experienced team will help you navigate the complexities of Florida landlord/tenant law, helping you pursue justice with compassion and dedication.
South Florida: 954-606-6606