Tragedy in Surfside as Building Collapses

Champlain Towers South collapsed in the early hours on June 24

Around 2 a.m. on June 24, 2021, residents around Collins Avenue and 88th Street woke up to sounds of a rumble and heavy smoke – the Champlain Towers South building had collapsed. It is estimated that around 55 of the 136 units available in the 12 story condominium have gone down. According to Miami Dade property records, the building was constructed in 1981.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, in the early afternoon, confirmed that at least one person has been pronounced dead with several more injured. As of mid-afternoon, the death toll had risen to three. Miami Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman told CNN that at least 51 people remain unaccounted for as of 10 a.m. this morning. Later in the afternoon, on the day of the collapse, a county official told ABC News the number was now 99. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Ray Jadallah shared that two people have been pulled from the debris, without commenting on their medical conditions. Mr. Jadallah also shared that 35 residents have been evacuated from the standing parts of the building. Rescue efforts continue but a late-morning early-afternoon lightning storm has complicated those efforts.

Sadly for many Miami natives this story is all too familiar. On March 15th, 2018 a 175-foot long segment of the FIU Sweetwater pedestrian bridge collapsed onto the Tamiami Trail resulting in ten injuries and six deaths. The six deaths consisted of one worker and five motorists. The main companies behind the constructions project were FIGG Bridge Engineers and Munilla Construction Management. The National Transportation Safety Board conducted an investigation concluding that the collapse was due to “a catastrophic structural failure in the nodal connection between truss members 11 and 12 and the bridge deck.” A total of 18 civil lawsuits were filed against various businesses that were involved in the bridge project. A year later, on May 2nd, 2019, the Munilla Construction Company reached a settlement agreement stating they would pay upwards of $42 million to the victims and families of the collapse.

At this time, the cause of the Surfside collapse is unknown. Surfside Mayor Charles W. Burkett shared that the building was undergoing roof work, but whether it was a factor in the tragedy has yet to be confirmed. The work was being done to meet “40-year standards” due to a strengthening of the building code following the 1992 Hurricane Andrew. Many witnesses of the collapse have stated, in shock, that buildings don’t just collapse.

The law has its very own term for what occurred today – res ipsa loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.” An early tort doctrine, res ipsa describes accidents where an individual might not necessarily know what went wrong but the accident couldn’t have occurred without negligence. Essentially, the negligence is inferred from the nature of the injury. This doctrine allows plaintiffs to seek remedies for their injuries without necessarily knowing exactly what went wrong. If a conclusion on fault is found, individuals and their loved ones could have claims for negligence, failure to adhere to regulations/code and wrongful death.

If you are trying to receive information about a loved one who may have potentially been in the building, please contact the following hot line: 305-614-1819.

Mase Mebane Seitz extends our deepest sympathies for the victims and loved ones of this horrendous tragedy. If the firm can be of any assistance, please call us at (305) 602-4894 for a free consultation.