Surfside Building Collapse Lawsuits Seek To Get Answers, Assign Blame – CBS Miami

MIAMI (CBSMiami / AP) – Champlain Towers South families have filed at least five lawsuits and criminal and civil investigations over last month’s collapse that left at least 32 people dead and more than 110 missing.

“The whole world wants to know what happened here,” said Daniella Levine Cava, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, at a press conference on Tuesday. Everyone, she said, wanted to know “what could have been prevented and how we can ensure that something like this never happens again”.

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Miami-Dade District Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has pledged to bring the matter to a grand jury who could collect evidence and hear testimony and recommend criminal charges or necessary reforms.

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit said the collapse aroused widespread concern about infrastructure problems and the trust placed in those responsible.

“We deserve to be able to enter buildings without having to fear that they will collapse around us and to know that our loved ones can go to bed at night without having to fear that they will fall 12 floors below.” Sleep, ”said Jeffrey Goodman, whose Philadelphia company filed a lawsuit on behalf of the children of missing resident Harold Rosenberg.

The lawsuits filed to date accuse the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, and in some cases a local architect and engineer, of negligence for failing to address serious structural issues identified in 2018, and Goodman’s firm has announced plans to add the city as a defendant .

“The role of building owners and architects and engineers and inspectors and security professionals is to make sure buildings are safe for their residents,” Goodman said.

At a hearing on Friday, a judge appointed a bankruptcy trustee to represent the homeowners community’s interests in the face of trauma to board members, one of whom is still missing. The board has approximately $ 48 million in insurance coverage, while the seaside land is valued at $ 30 million to $ 50 million, the judge said.

The judge said he hoped the lawsuit could be resolved quickly, perhaps within a year. Until then, he authorized the bankruptcy administrator, Attorney Michael Goldberg, to provide residents with $ 10,000 each for temporary housing and $ 2,000 for funeral expenses.

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who also represents the Rosenberg family and is looking for access to the website, said that such cases are not all about money.

“They want to make this a search to find out what happened,” said Mongeluzzi. “We believe there is still evidence.”

Neither the board members of the homeowners association nor their lawyers responded to e-mails asking for comments.

CONTINUE READING: Surfside Mayor says the city is investigating the safety of Champlain Towers North

An earlier case with possible legal parallels concerns the collapse of an unrestrained brick wall on a building that was demolished in 2013 in Philadelphia. It fell on an adjacent Salvation Army shop, killing six people and injuring 13 people. A woman was found alive 13 hours later, but lost both legs before she died that year and had to endure more than 30 operations.

In the trials that followed, the jury checked emails detailing a pre-existing dispute over the demolition and found the Salvation Army, the owner of the building, and its architect largely responsible. The parties then agreed to pay $ 227 million in damages.

On the criminal side, the architect was given immunity for working with the prosecutor, and the wealthy builder was never charged. However, a grocery truck operator who became a contractor was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison for negligent homicide, despite being acquitted of third degree murder. A forklift driver who was on prescription medication for injury was also jailed after making a deal.

“It was a tragedy, no question about it. It could have been avoided, “said attorney William Hobson, who represents jailed contractor Griffin Campbell, on Tuesday.

He still believes that the people who are most guilty have run free while “the two types at the bottom of the food chain” have been persecuted “on the basis of race (and) social inequality”. Campbell continues to appeal the conviction, with the support of the families of some victims.

The deaths prompted Philadelphia officials to inspect demolition sites across the city and step up their oversight in what was widely felt to be lax.

In Florida, a grand jury is still examining the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in 2018, in which six people were killed. Charges were brought against both manslaughter and third-degree murder following the 1996 Everglades accident of the ValuJet 592, which killed 110 people.

Denis Bender, professor of tort law at Chapman University in Orange County, California, who deals with large-scale disasters, sees a growing tendency in such cases to not only seek damages but also bring criminal charges, often for negligence. He said this could be because the public is now seeing them in real time, as happened with the harrowing images that Surfside broadcast around the world over the past week.

“I think it’s increasing because of the media and social media – not necessarily because there’s a drumbeat out there, but everyone is horrified at what they see. And there is this call for justice, ”said Binder.

“With something as spectacular as this, there is a lot of pressure in today’s world to find mistakes,” he said. “And there is already enough evidence (in Surfside) that people made bad decisions.”

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