Of course, buildings don’t just break by themselves. There is always a cause for why a structure designed to stand for decades suddenly collapses. In this case, the reasons indicate that this was no unforeseen, unpreventable accident, and some of the victims are already taking legal action. Two lawsuits are likely already in the making for what happened in Surfside.
Also known as a “slip and fall” injury, though that is inaccurate in this case. Whether it is residential or commercial, any owner of a property has a legal obligation known as “duty of care.” Duty of care means that the property owner, or management hired by the owner, must take reasonable precautions to ensure that people in a building are safe. Homeowners that own an aggressive dog, for example, are expected to leash and confine the dog when visitors arrive.
Likewise, the owners of an amusement park are required to inspect attractions. If the attractions are faulty and pose a risk of injury to visitors, take those attractions offline and repair them.
In these cases, the duty of care means that owners are aware that some aspect of the property creates a risk that may harm residents, visitors, or employees. They then take steps to eliminate that risk so that people on the property can go about their business in safety.
Ignoring The Signs
In the case of the condo collapse, reports are now emerging that structural inspections warned of significant problems. For example, in 2018, a structural engineering report compiled of the premises indicated that the parking garage underneath the tower had cracked and could lead to major structural issues. However, in meetings with residents, people were told that “the building was not in bad shape” and that everything was moving ahead for its 40-year structural recertification.
It’s now apparent to all that the building was in terrible shape. Unfortunately, any warnings given about the structural threat to residents were ignored for over two years. This means that even though the property owners had information pointing out a risk to residents, they chose to ignore and continue to expose residents to that risk. Tragically, that risk has now played out.
This is a classic case of premises liability. The owners knew of a risk but deliberately chose to ignore it. Anyone who was injured as a result of ignoring that risk can undertake a lawsuit.
Even more tragic than a personal injury lawsuit for a “slip and fall” is the sad burden of surviving family members that have lost someone to premises liability. In this case, with at least ten people at the time of this writing and 100 more missing, it’s a sad certainty that the death toll will continue to rise.
Wrongful death is a lawsuit based on the idea that someone’s loss of life was entirely preventable if the duty of care had been observed. In this case, it’s a tragic but straightforward equation that if the building owners had taken the warnings of structural threats seriously and fixed the problem, the building wouldn’t have collapsed. As a result, people wouldn’t have lost their lives.
As with personal injury, wrongful death requires a direct line of causation. First, it must be proven that there is an association between an event and a death. In this case, someone killed under the rubble of a falling building can have that death 100% associated with the building collapse.
Next, the cause of that incident must be tied directly to negligence of some kind. Once again, the emergence of a 2018 report citing severe structural risks is already the “smoking gun” that shows the property managers were aware of the threats. Witness reports that they downplayed the report and insisted the building was fine once again show this was not unforeseen. There was a conscious knowledge of the risk and a deliberate attempt to hide the risk and hope nothing wrong would come of it.
The Next Move
Unfortunately, for the residents of the Surfside building, the worst-case scenario has come to pass. Years of neglect resulted in a catastrophic collapse. Some people have lost their homes and belongings. Others, more tragically, have lost their lives or the lives of people important to them. With so much early evidence already pointing to premises liability, it’s no wonder that even at this early juncture, lawsuits are already being filed so that victims can seek justice and make sure the ones responsible don’t get away with it.