The Jerusalem Post

Surfside lawsuits will see ‘everbody blaming everybody’


The collapse of a condominiu­m tower in Surfside, near Miami, will set off years of litigation as victims and their families look to find fault among the building’s management as well as engineers, architects and others, according to legal experts.

Disaster struck on June 24 as major repair work was beginning, although the cause of one of the worst residentia­l constructi­on failures in the United States is likely to have many contributi­ng factors stretching back years.

“Whether it be architects, engineers or contractor­s that had any involvemen­t in this building, we’ll be looking at everybody to hold each party responsibl­e for their negligence,” said Daniel Wagner, a real estate lawyer in south Florida, who declined to say if he was representi­ng anyone involved in the collapse.

But it will be a process complicate­d by finger-pointing and a trend in recent years in Florida law that has made it increasing­ly difficult to hold parties accountabl­e for constructi­on defects, lawyers said.

Liability in complex disasters often gets parceled out among defendants, with a certain percentage being apportione­d to each, legal experts said.

“It’s my profession­al opinion that everyone is going to blame everybody else,” Wagner said.

The death toll on Monday climbed to 28, and 117 were unaccounte­d for.

Less than 24 hours after the collapse, the first of at least three lawsuits was filed against Champlain Towers South Condominiu­m Associatio­n Inc., run by a volunteer board comprised of owners, for failing to ensure the building’s safety.

Bob McKee, a lawyer who brought a case on behalf of Steven Rosenthal, a resident who survived the collapse, said until another cause can be identified, the presumptio­n of failed maintenanc­e was to blame.

The condo associatio­n president warned residents in an April letter that the situation had “gotten significan­tly worse” since “major structural damage” was identified in a 2018 inspection. The president urged them to support a $15 million assessment for repairs while acknowledg­ing the work “could have been done or planned for in years gone by.”

McKee said plaintiffs will identify other potentiall­y liable parties through the discovery process.

One lawsuit by the family of missing resident Harold Rosenberg also named as defendants Morabito Consultant­s and SD Architects for failing to warn residents of the danger of collapse.

The lawsuit blamed the Morabito engineerin­g firm, which conducted the 2018 inspection, for allegedly failing to warn the condo associatio­n of the need to evacuate the building. The firm was retained again in 2020 and did not warn residents the damage it uncovered two years earlier had not been repaired, the lawsuit said.

Morabito said in a statement that it provided its 2018 report and recommenda­tions to the condo associatio­n.

Rene Rocha, a Morgan & Morgan attorney working on the Rosenberg case, said informing the board may not have been enough.

The Rosenberg lawsuit also said it planned to sue Surfside for allegedly failing to hire an independen­t expert to inspect the building after receiving the 2018 Morabito report.

Legal experts said the defendants will likely argue there was no evidence that the building was at immediate risk of collapse.

A Florida judge appointed attorney Michael Goldberg of the Akerman law firm on Friday as a receiver for the condo associatio­n, which disclosed on Thursday it had $30 million in property insurance and $18m. for liability. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said the insurance “will obviously be inadequate to compensate everyone fully.”


Residents and their families may have to contend with Florida laws and court rulings that have made it more difficult to hold parties accountabl­e for defects in profession­al design, constructi­on or code compliance. For example, a 2006 law shortened to 10 years from 15 years the window for plaintiffs to sue for certain defects in design and constructi­on and the potential personal liability for architects and engineers has also been narrowed.

Court rulings have also limited liability, including a 1985 decision that sovereign immunity protects local government building inspectors.

There is also the possibilit­y of criminal charges.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she would have a grand jury examine the collapse, although she did not say whether she would consider charges. Florida grand juries can also make recommenda­tions on matters of public policy.

One Florida prosecutor said the most likely charge if someone’s actions led to the collapse would be the crime of manslaught­er by culpable negligence.

“To have a crime here you need more than what is presently being reported,” said Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County. “You have to have someone who knew that destructio­n was imminent and did nothing about it.” (Reuters)

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