Surfside Condo Building Collapse - Who is Liable, and Will Insurance Pay?

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Surfside Miami Building Collapse

As you can imagine our community is in morning over the devastating tragedy which occurred on June 24, 2021, the Champlain Towers, located at 8777 Collins Avenue, Surfside, Florida 33154 crumbled to the ground horribly killing over 90 people with 22 more still missing. After weeks of hope, the search and rescue mission turned into a recovery mission and the part of the tower which still remained standing was brought down in a controlled explosion to better help the recovery operations.

Surfside Miami Building Collapse

Since our initial story was published shortly after the collapse what we have learned has been hard to read and comprehend, our investigation continues yet some of the main points we brought forward have been confirmed.

Certainly, those who survived, the families who lost loved ones, and the first responders searching day and night to find and recover those missing have all been impacted and will most likely never fully heal from the hurt and pain associated with the building’s untimely collapse. Lives have been lost, homes have been destroyed, memories have been crushed, and sentimental items and property have been lost forever – all because of avoidable failures by several individuals and companies.

Seeking Justice for Victims 

As we all shift through the paperwork, witness statements, and insurance claims we also are looking for answers and justice for those most affected and specifically for the families who lost everything.

Our firm looked at typical insurance most large condominiums take out to determine what coverage may apply for the victims. In fact, our law firm has represented dozens of families that have lost loved ones over the years in cases similar to the Surfside condo collapse; although, no two cases are ever alike, our Firm has helped victims through premises liability claims both in the past and currently. For instance, our Firm recently resolved a lawsuit where our client was working in a building when a piece of the roof fell unexpectedly onto him. As a result of the roof collapse, our client was seriously injured and required immediate neck surgery and sustained serious and permanent injuries – including the inability to work. Horrible tragedies such as the condo’s collapse have similarities to cases our Firm has, and does, handle and that experience has provided our personal injury lawyers with an edge over the insurance companies who will most certainly fight families’ claims.

It is important to note the issues related to the insurance companies’ responsibility to best protect their insured’s interests. In the case of the Champlain condo tragedy, there will be several insurance carriers that will be working on behalf of the potentially responsible parties. From our experience in the past – and our current investigation into this preventable loss – the following entities will most likely be sued: The Condo Association, The Engineer’s brought in to evaluate the previously suspected damage to the condo, The City of Surfside claiming their failure to enforce potential building code violations, possibly individuals on the Board of the Champlain condo who may have failed to take action and acted outside of their roles associated with the Board’s responsibilities, The Construction company working on the roof of the building, and many others who will be subjected to appropriate scrutiny.

Insurance Claims

Some of the issues that will be raised by the insurance companies in response to insurance claims for damages will certainly revolve around their responsibility under the policies. For instance, some potential aspects of the policies will relate to:

  1. Peril: an event, such as a fire, break-in, hailstorm, lightning strike, windstorm, explosion or falling objects which damages the home or your belongings. Each homeowner/condominium’s insurance policy varies but perils will be listed within, interestingly enough a building collapse is most likely not listed.
  2. Hazard: a factor or activity which may cause extensive loss such as having a gasoline can left in a garage which than causes an explosion. Depending on the hazard which caused the event, will depend on if insurance coverage will apply. In this case a review of the actual policy is necessary.
  3. Covered Perils: there may be coverage due to a collapse, or an abrupt falling down of the building, however certain clauses within the policy may negate this coverage, as an example typical clauses state that if there was decay which was hidden from view, unless the decay was known; Weight of contents, people, equipment; Weight of rain collected on the roof; Use of defective building materials or methods during the construction process, remolding or renovation.

Liable for Surfside Miami Building Collapse

In the case of the Surfside building, at the time of the building collapse, the building was not under construction, renovation, or remodeling based on the definitions for the applicable insurance documents. If it is determined that the building collapsed due to defective materials or defective construction methods at the time of construction this coverage would not apply, and although the roof was currently being repaired it would not fall under the renovation or remolding clause of the policy. However, if it is determined that the roof repairs caused the building to collapse, then there may be coverage which at this time does not appear to be the case.

Additionally, if the decay of the building issues were not known then this coverage may apply, however if the decay of certain sections of the building where known, not only to the board but the residents as well, thus this would negate the coverage. There was, a detailed engineering report from 2018, which discussed these issues and was well known by the building association, the members of the board, the residents and the management company so this may also negate the coverage.

There have been rumors that the building collapsed due to a sinkhole, or the building was sinking a few centimeters per year, both common occurrence in Florida, thus the earth movement exclusion would also apply and there would be no coverage due. Interestingly, there are claims related to other buildings located in Florida and California that are associated with slow, but noticeable, “sinking” which could certainly also lead to serious tragedies. This is important because both Florida and California are coastal states, and each has their own environmental issues – such as earthquakes in California and hurricanes in Florida.

Is There Additional Coverage in The Building’s Insurance Policy?

There may be additional coverage in the buildings insurance policy regarding sinkholes, however based on what our investigation as well as others have found, this is unlikely to be the case.

Liability: Typically, liability coverage for members of the board is part of any insurance policy, this would apply if the board was found guilty of failing to take proper and timely action in maintaining the building and protect the building from collapse. In this case there may be what is described as “errors and omissions” or “directors and operations” insurance. These types of policies come into play when there are injury claims against the board individuals who are blamed for causing, or contributing, to the incident.

There may be additional coverage, but we would have to see the detailed insurance policy to better determine if there is coverage for the victims.

On July 2, 2021 a judge stated that the $48 million in insurance coverage that can be applied for may not be enough coverage. The attorneys for the building association discussed two insurance policies, a $30 million property policy from Great American and an $18 million liability policy. What hasn’t been discussed is if these policies will be paid out based on the information detailed above. Certainly, there will be lawsuits between the building association, insurance companies and the lawyers representing the victims. Some insurance companies may not fight the claims and pay out to avoid the negative publicity.

Some may say its too early to determine guilt and file a lawsuit, however as a Florida personal injury lawyer who has handled literally thousands of cases, it is my professional opinion that with the amount of devastation and loss, its best to retain a professional whose sole legal practice revolves around representing victims injured or killed as a result of negligence or intentional acts. Furthermore, it is important to file sooner rather than later to ensure an equitable distribution with the monies available to the families, additionally due to Florida Statues there is a mandatory statutes of limitation requirement and if you wait to long, for the final analysis to be complete it would be too late to file. Lastly, it is critical to file suit against the Champlain condo association immediately in order to protect your rights and preserve necessary evidence that will absolutely be part of the litigation.

Preserving evidence is one of the best ways to help guarantee our client’s get the most money they deserve; of course, no amount of money will ever bring closure or peace to the devastating loss of a family member or loved one. However, under Florida law, a survivor is entitled to many forms of damages and, should we prove there was gross negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts that led to the collapse, then punitive damages may be available. As always, punitive damages are sought to punish bad behavior and deter others.

Shiner Law Group recommends next steps for the victims and family members  

It is paramount that victims and their family members and estate protect their rights and hiring a dedicated firm to represent you is essential. This will not be resolved quickly and there will be a lengthy litigation process, but with the right team families can concentrate on their recovery and know that their affairs will be handled with the utmost respect, because we are your neighbors and we care.

David Shiner Personal Injury Attorney

Personal Injury Attorney, David Shiner

There will also be issues when dealing with insurance companies. With so many insurance carriers things can get confusing and certainly complicated, there will be various insurance carriers of the homeowners as well as the carriers of the building itself, and if construction or building maintenance was being conducted those insurance carriers will also be involved. Having a firm familiar with these carriers and able to handle these claims is essential.

Our hearts and prayers go out to those families affected by this devastating event, however as injury attorneys, our job is to protect our clients who may be affected, if you or a loved one has been affected by this event, please contact one of our lawyers immediately to ensure your rights are being protected, to learn more visit www.ShinerLawGroup.com or call our office today at 561-777-7700.

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