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The Florida Condo Collapse Is Premises Liability On A Tragic Scale

People throughout Florida are all too aware of the recent tragedy that has struck Surfside, near Miami. On June 24th, the Champlain Towers South condominium complex experienced what is called a partial collapse. A major portion of the building simply fell. Tragically, there were people in the building at the time as this happened in the morning hours.

There are now 16 confirmed dead at the time of this writing, with over 140 people still unaccounted for and numerous injuries. Unfortunately, hope is dwindling that the missing people will be recovered alive. This is a large-scale tragedy that has caught Florida—and the world—by surprise. But perhaps the most tragic thing about this disaster is it is quickly becoming apparent it could have been prevented. This means that this is a case of premises liability. There are already lawsuits being put into motion to get justice.

What Is Premises Liability?

Anyone that owns a property has certain minimum legal obligations collectively known as duty of care. Duty of care is a property owner’s responsibility to take reasonable precautions to ensure a safe environment. This applies to commercial properties, industrial areas, and even private homeowners.

Reasonable precautions vary with the situation. For example, a homeowner with a firearm exercises duty of care by not keeping guns on a coffee table where children can easily find and play with them. Duty of care may also mean supervising children when they play in a swimming pool.

For commercial areas, duty of care may mean ensuring that lights are in working order in stairwells or that motor oil spilled on a repair garage flood is cleaned up before anyone slips on it. Industrial sites may observe duty of care by providing adequate ventilation to ensure employees don’t breathe in dangerous fumes or provide safety helmets to protect everyone on site.

When a property owner deliberately chooses to ignore safety precautions, that breach is called premises liability. It means that not only did the owner know there was a risk, but a choice was also made to ignore precautions to reduce that risk. Injuries—or even death—were the result of that choice to ignore duty of care.

Negligence Is Already Evident At Champlain Towers South

If someone is injured as a result of premises liability, this is against the law. However, it is an accident, meaning that no criminal laws are usually violated, so no jail sentences are involved. However, civil penalties can still be handed out in the form of lawsuits. In other words, while criminals pay for their crimes with time in jail, people who are found guilty of breaking civil laws pay for their law-breaking out of their bank accounts. However, for this justice to occur in courts, there must be proof of negligence, and that proof must be connected to injury or death.

In the case of the tragedy at Champlain Towers South, we already have injury and death occurring. The building partially collapsed, and both injuries and deaths occurred as a result of that collapse. It is nearly impossible to claim that someone discovered in the building rubble died due to a car accident inside the building or gunshot wound just before the building collapsed, for example. The collapse of the building is irrefutably tied to the deaths of some victims.

The next requirement for premises liability is to directly line the accident that caused an injury or death and knowledge of the risk, combined with negligent acts that ignored that risk. Once again, evidence is already surfacing that makes a strong court case. For example, structural engineering reports have already been discovered that claimed an underground parking lot under the tower showed cracks. The cracks indicated severe structural risk. There are also reports indicating that the building was coming up due to its 40 year recertification process. Over $15 million in repairs was required for it to pass that certification.

This all runs counter to minutes taken at condo owner meetings, where unit owners were told by the property management that the building “was in good shape.” But, of course, a building that is in good shape does not suddenly collapse in the early morning with no storm or earthquake. That means management was either grossly incompetent and didn’t understand the warnings given by structural reports and so ignored them, or understood the warnings but chose to ignore them.

Either way, there is clear proof that warnings were given about the risks to the building, and steps were not taken to address the danger. The injuries and deaths at Champlain Towers South are now the results of that deliberate inaction.

It’s no surprise, then, that legal action is being taken, as those injured and those who have lost family members in this tragedy seek justice for what could have been an easily preventable disaster.

Michael J. Babboni's wide-ranging legal career is based on the strong belief that everyone should be treated fairly and have access to effective legal help. Michael began putting his beliefs in action by helping the people of St. Petersburg Florida get what they are owed in civil trials fighting to protect families by making corporations pay, and honor their obligations.

The Florida Condo Collapse Is Premises Liability On A Tragic Scale

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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