Law

Did Flawed Construction Contribute to the Florida Building Collapse?

A defect in the original construction might have contributed to the sudden collapse of the 40-year-old South Florida condominium on June 24. The rescue crews spent a little over a month rummaging through the wreckage for survivors. Recognizing that no more survivors would be rescued, the crew transitioned from a rescue operation to a recovery effort on July 7. The final death toll was 98, officially making the collapsed condominium one of the most destructive structural building failures in the history of America.

Flawed Construction of the Basement Pool Deck

The latest media reports indicate a flawed construction of the basement pool deck could have caused significant damage to a portion of the Champlain Towers South Condo. The pool deck’s concrete was constructed flat rather than sloped, causing water to accumulate and drain to the parking garage underneath. Continuous corrosion in the parking garage is thought to have weakened the structural integrity of the whole building.

A 2018 inspection discovered the weakening of the building’s foundation. The Champlain Towers South Condominium Association was planning to repair the damage. High costs coupled with indecisiveness over how to meet them, however, delayed the execution of the repair plan.

Condo owners are required to meet some of the costs of the building repair. The high estimated cost ($9.1 million) of the repair project explains why there were indecisions over how to meet the huge expense. A team of investigators is currently examining the wreckage and inspections reports to establish what exactly caused the 135-unit condominium to collapse abruptly in the wee hours of the night.

Nearly half of the units in the 13-story building came down at 1:30 a.m. The New York Times released surveillance footage that shows a section of the building first fell steeply, apparently coming down in one huge chunk as if the columns under the southern edge of the building’s center, near the pool, had failed. The whole center of the building came down shortly afterward, followed by a huge section to the east. The whole building collapsed in less than 60 seconds.

Continuous Worsening of the Damage

The local government of Surfside, Florida, released a 2018 assessment report of the condominium prepared by engineering company Morabito Consultants. The report revealed proof of significant structural deterioration of the concrete slab under the basement pool deck and significantly damaged columns and walls of the basement parking garage.

Faulty waterproofing under the pool deck of the condominium was linked to the structural weakening of the building’s concrete foundation. The report recommended the replacement of waterproofing as soon as possible to prevent the extent of the concrete damage from expanding exponentially.

The condominium association president sent a letter on April 9 stating that damage to the basement parking garage had exacerbated since the 2018 inspection, and the building’s concrete foundation had significantly deteriorated. In fact, the estimated repair bill had risen from 2018’s $9.1 million to about $16.2 million in 2021.

Three days before the South Florida condominium came down, a commercial pool contractor had spotted stagnant water in the basement parking garage. He noticed damaged concrete and significantly corroded reinforcement steel under the pool.

The contractor went to the building to assemble a bid for the pool’s cosmetic restoration and estimate the cost of new pool equipment. This was a small fraction of a larger restoration project that was upcoming. The contractor allegedly was so curious about the amount of water at the condo that he had asked a building staff member about it. According to the contractor, the staff member thought it was waterproofing problems.

Potential Liable Parties in the South Florida Condo Collapse

The Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, the local architect, the local engineer, the local builder, and the Surfside town building inspector are the possible liable parties in the collapse of the South Florida condo. Why? Property owners, architects, engineers, and inspectors have a legal duty to ensure that buildings are reasonably safe to be occupied.

Condo residents who suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to the collapse can file lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association. For the personal injury claim or wrongful death claim to be successful, an injured resident or family member of the killed resident must prove that the condominium association neglected or failed in its duties of ensuring the condominium was reasonably safe. Until investigators come up with another cause, the assumption is that failed maintenance was responsible for the collapse.

The injured residents can also sue the local architect or engineer if investigations reveal construction design defects were to blame. They can also bring an injury claim or wrongful death claim against the builder if the findings show that construction defects that happened during the building process caused the collapse.

A construction defect lawyer can help a resident who sustained serious injuries in the South Florida Condo collapse determine whom to include as the liable party in his or her lawsuit. The lawyer can review the building’s inspection reports, surveillance video of the collapse, and key eyewitness statements to build a strong case that will increase the chances of the injured resident recovering the highest compensation possible. 

Adrian

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