Five Lawsuits in Surfside Condo Collapse. Judge Says $48M Insurance is Not Enough

Five lawsuits were filed against Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Surfside, Florida on Thursday afternoon

The plaintiffs are trying to preserve evidence at site of partially collapsed high rise to claim a portion of $48 million worth of insurance coverage.

On Thursday morning, Judge Michael Hanzman of Miami-Dade Circuit held an emergency meeting online. According to the Miami Herald, attorneys representing the condo association informed him that they know of a Great American $30 million policy in property insurance and $18 million liability insurance.

Hanzman stated that it appears that the total amount for property damage and injury and death claims will be $48 million. This is clearly insufficient to fully compensate all those who have suffered. I don’t know if there are third-party claims. Perhaps there are. We are only dealing with a small pool of insurers.

Rescuers found the remains of 18 victims of the collapsed condo tower. 145 people were still missing. After movement in the debris heap raised concerns about the possibility that the remaining portion of the condo tower might fall, the search and rescue efforts were suspended.

The condominium association board hired a public relations firm to issue a statement Friday stating that an independent receiver should have been appointed to supervise the legal and claims process. Hanzman indicated that he was looking into such an appointment during Thursday’s hearing.

The association stated that the collapse of Champlain Towers South was an “unspeakable tragedy” that had devastated their community, our neighbours, and our friends. We are deeply in mourning and offer our condolences to the families of the people who have lost loved ones.

According to Miami-Dade court records, plaintiffs are suing both the association and a structural engineering and architectural firm involved in the 40-year-old recertification. Morabito Consultants inspect the building every year in 2018. They found that the pool deck had been improperly constructed and caused water damage to concrete below. SD Architects was also involved in the recertification process.

The following lawsuits have been filed:

  • Construction defects lawsuit brought by Steven, Mark, Shoshana, and Harold Rosenberg’s estate against the association; Morabito Consultants & SD Architects.
  • Alex J. Anton and Beatrice Guerra Rodriguez filed a premises liability lawsuit against the association.
  • Raysa Rodriguez filed a suit against the association in contract and indebtedness.
  • Manuel Drezner files a lawsuit for construction defect against the association
  • Steve Rosenthal files a lawsuit for construction defect.

“Many people are to blame for the tragic fall of Champlain Towers South Condominium. According to Rodriguez’s lawsuit, Unit 907 of the demolished condo building was named as the plaintiff.

At least one insurance company has already paid up. The Miami Herald reported that James River Insurance’s attorney pled guilty to paying $2 million for a condominium association liability policy.

Donna Berger is an attorney representing the condominium association. She told USA Today it was “despicable,” that a lawsuit had been filed attributing blame, while emergency crews were still searching to find survivors.

Chip Merlin, an attorney in Tampa who represents Rodriguez, claimed that Rodriguez was subject to a two-year deadline for filing claims under Senate Bill 76. This bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed Senate Bill 76 into Law on June 11, requires that attorneys assert their clients rights immediately. Merlin attacked the bill on his Tuesday webcast. He said it would hurt people with complicated claims such as Champlain Towers South clients.

He replied in an email to Claims Journal’s question, “How can you make law and ordinance claims in two years?”

According to media reports attorneys representing the Rosenberg family applied to the court for permission for a drone to be flown over the rubble pile.

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, Morgan & Morgan, and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky both stressed the importance to intervene early in order to preserve evidence in their complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. They said that they have previous experience in litigation related past structural collapses in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City.

The suit states that plaintiffs’ counsel has extensive experience in building collapsing litigation and has witnessed first-hand how the evidence at a collapse site can be crucial to the case and help in determining the cause.

Stephen Marino

of Ver Ploeg & Marino Miami said that the majority of homeowners’ compensation for damage to Champlain Towers would come from the association’s property insurance policy. He explained that condo owners sometimes purchase additional coverage to cover their personal property. However, this would not include the cost of rebuilding the building.

According to him, it seems that long-running litigation is inevitable, judging from the reports. The Miami Herald reported that the directors of condominium associations resigned in 2019 after squabbling over a potential $15million special assessment to repair. An ex-city official claimed that the building was in good order.

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