Deconstructing Champlain Towers Structural Collapse From A Legal Perspective
As product liability lawyers in South Florida, our firm is acutely aware of the various defects and negligence issues facing many homeowners association throughout the state of Florida. Champlain Towers apartments in Surfside, Florida crumbled to the ground, causing many residents and guests to suffer injury or lose their life. Hundreds of first responders and emergency personnel responded to the scene in a rescue and recovery mission, putting their own lives at risk.
Yet one of the biggest questions remains: how did this happen?
I’ve handled more than 6500 accident and injury claims throughout the state of Florida including numerous personal injury and wrongful death claims in and around apartment complexes. I’ve taken depositions of numerous condominium association board members, reviewed building plans, analyzed board meeting minutes, reviewed maintenance records, and more. I worked on cases involving structural collapses, from ceilings and walls to balconies. Every one of these claims I handled had one thing in common: Negligence.
Investigation is still ongoing in the Champlain Towers collapse and time will tell whether negligence played a factor.
Under Florida law, a victim may have a claim of negligence if he or she can prove that the condominium owed a duty to use reasonable care, breached that duty, and as a result of that breach he or she sustained injury or death. From what we know so far, this may not be a very high threshold to overcome.
Who may be sued in the Champlain Towers collapse lawsuits?
Under Florida’s premises liability and product liability laws, anyone who caused or contributed to the collapse maybe legally responsible to pay for the victim’s damages. From a negligence perspective, this could be anyone who had anything to do with the safety, management, maintenance or security of the property. From a product liability perspective, this may include any person or company in the chain of commerce for any of the parts that may not have worked properly or otherwise failed leading to the structural collapse.
Some possible defendants of a structural collapse lawsuit may be the condominium association, board members, security company, maintenance company, developers, consultants, inspectors, architects, engineers, code enforcement, parts manufacturers, rebar distributor, concrete distributor, general contractors, sub-contractors and more.
What damages can victim of the Champlain Towers condominium collapse collect?
While no amount of money could ever repay or repair the damage that this unthinkable tragedy caused, many victims and their families are left with a devastating financial impact that may make it difficult to recover from. Florida law may entitle them to recover compensation for various types of losses.
Some of the types of damages a victim or the victim’s family may able to recover include:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages or earning capacity
- Net accumulations
- Funeral expenses
- Medical expenses
- Lost apartment value
- Loss of use of the apartment
- Refund of prepaid maintenance dues
- Lost personal effects
- Punitive damages
What legal claims can be brought against Champlain Towers condominium association and others?
Florida law allows a victim of a structural collapse to bring certain types of claims. A victim’s status as an owner or guest may impact ones ability to raise certain claims. However, some legal claims which might be available include:
- Product Liability
- Breach of Express Warranty
- Breach of Implied Warranty
- Failure to Warn
- Strict Liability
- Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Who can make a claim for damages as a result of the Champlain Towers collapse?
Victim is alive: If the victim is alive and over 18, the victim can make a claim on his or her own. If the victim is under the age of 18, a guardian or parent should make a claim on behalf of the child. If the child’s parent died in the collapse, the child can have a Court award custody to another adult.
Victim is deceased: If the victim died in the Surfside condo collaps, the victim’s family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Florida Wrongful Death Law, only certain people are entitled to make a claim or recover any compensation.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit for the Surfside a Champlain Towers condominium collapse
Who can bring a wrongful death claim for the Champlain Towers collapse?
The first step is figuring out who is legally allowed to make a claim on behalf of all lawful survivors of a victim who died in the condominium collapse. If the person had a Will, the Will generally specifies who the personal representative is. The personal representative often has priority to file a wrongful death lawsuit for a victim of the Surfside condominium collapse. If the personal representative is deceased, and no other successor personal representative is listed in the Will, Florida’s intestate law may dictate who the next person in line with priority to be the personal representative is. Typically, the surviving spouse has priority if there is no Will. If there is no spouse, then the children may have priority. If there are no children or spouse, then the victim’s parents may have priority. If none of those, then a sibling may have priority. It’s a bit of a web, but a probate attorney can sort through the family dynamic to see who can bring the wrongful death lawsuit.
Who can bring the claim may be different than who can get compensation
While Florida’s probate law dictates who can file the Champlain Towers lawsuit, Florida’s wrongful death law dictates who can get compensation. Under Florida’s wrongful death law, only certain people can make a claim for compensation. Typically, the personal representative may get an hourly fee or percentage of the estate for services administering the estate. On the other hand, claims made for wrongful death may include:
Surviving spouse: May get compensation for loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury, lost support and services, and future loss of support and services
Surviving child: Minor children of the decedent, and all children of the decedent if there is no surviving spouse, may also recover for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. If both spouses die within 30 days of one another as a result of the same wrongful act or series of acts arising out of the same incident, each spouse is considered to have been predeceased by the other.
Surviving parents: Each parent of a deceased minor child may also recover for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Each parent of an adult child may also recover for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors, like children of the decedent.
Estate damages: Loss of earnings of the deceased from the date of injury to the date of death. Loss of the prospective net accumulations of an estate, which might reasonably have been expected but for the wrongful death may also be recovered. Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death that have become a charge against her or his estate or that were paid by or on behalf of decedent.
Types Of Claims Victims of Champlain Towers May Have To Deal With
Moving forward, families and loved ones may find themselves in a complex legal web causing even more uncertainty, stress and pain. As wrongful death lawyers in South Florida
, we’ve handled numerous claims arising out of a wrongful death. Some of the other types of claims these families may now face include:
If a victim had life insurance, a claim may be made for the benefit. If the victim was found, a death certificate is often required to make the claim. If the victim is not found, the process may be more challenging. If the State is willing to issue a death certificate, then that is prima facie evidence which can be used to make the claim. If they won’t, then Florida law may require the victim’s family to wait 5 years. That’s because Florida law says,
“A person who is absent from the place of his or her last known domicile for a continuous period of 5 years and whose absence is not satisfactorily explained after diligent search and inquiry is presumed to be dead.”
Given the caveat of “whose absence is not satisfactorily explained”, a victim may be able to petition the Court to presume the death now so the victim’s family can make the claim.
Life insurance claims may create additional legal complications for a family who doesn’t understand the claims process. The life insurance policy may list a beneficiary or contingent beneficiary. If both are deceased, the policy may still be payable. It may go to the policy owner or to the insured’s estate. That means that a probate estate
may need to be opened just to make the life insurance claim. Our probate department has done this many times, so we know it can be done.
Another consideration is the type of life insurance. There are term, universal, whole life and accidental death and dismemberment policies. The positive part here is that any of those policies should apply if there was any negligence on the condo association or any other party which contributed to the death.
Each person who died in the Champlain Towers collapse who owned any property may be required to hire a probate attorney in Surfside or who handles probate administration in Miami. A probate attorney can file a probate administration and have a personal representative appointed over the Estate to sue for wrongful death
, sell or distribute assets, file a life insurance claim for the Estate, and pay or dispute creditors.
Any victim who died as a result of the Champlain Towers collapse may have the right to sue. A probate estate would need to be opened, and then the personal representative can hire a wrongful death lawyer in Miami
to file the lawsuit.
Champlain Towers investigation may take years
Complex product liability and negligence cases may take several years to investigate. This is in part because our legal system is not necessarily set up for speed. For example, a request made by one party may give the other party at least 30 days to respond. Extensions are common. Some parties or witnesses may be hard to find, or could be located in a different state or country. Coordinating depositions could take time. Processing potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of records takes time. There may be requests for public records. The goal, however, is to find out what happened and get the victims the answers they deserve. Then, the victims can hold all who contributed responsible if this was preventable, foreseeable, or if the law allows for strict liability based on product liability.
Product liability lawyer Jason Turchin is a national product liability lawyer based in South Florida, not too far from the Champlain Towers. Jason was one of the first lawyers in the United States to file a federal lawsuit against Honda and Takata for defective airbags, which helped lead to one of the largest consumer product recalls in US history with nearly 80,000,000 airbags recalled. His firm is co-lead counsel in a consumer product defect class action against Sunbeam Products for alleged defects in Crock-Pot multicooker devices, and was lead counsel in IN RE: TRISTAR PRODUCTS, a federal consolidated product liability lawsuit. Jason Turchin is a victim's rights attorney, fighting to get answers and justice for his clients. He's been featured in media around the world, including CBS Evening News, Bloomberg News, Forbes, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and the ABA Journal. His work on product liability matters has been used and featured in United States Senate Hearings. For more information, visit the Law Offices of Jason Turchin at www.victimaid.com or contact us at 954-515-5000.