As first responders continue to dig through the rubble of the 12-story residential building that collapsed in Surfside, Florida on Thursday, town officials have vowed to investigate whether city officials or condominium board members downplayed a series of red flags about the structure’s structural integrity in the years leading up to the collapse.
When asked whether a municipal official misled citizens about concerns expressed in a 2018 engineering study, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told ABC News on Monday, “We’re going to have to find out.”
According to a former resident and an NPR storey, a former municipal building official called Ross Prieto assured tenants of the building’s stability five weeks after the study indicated “severe structural deterioration.”
Prieto has not replied to ABC News’ requests for comment, but he did tell the Miami Herald over the weekend that he is not commenting on counsel’s recommendation.
It’s possible that the condominium board may be re-examined. In 2015, Daniel Wagner of iLawyerUp.com represented a client who sued the Champlain Tower South condominium board over water damage caused by fractures in her walls.
“In my expertise with this building, it appears that a lot of the structural components were rusted in 2015,” Wagner told ABC News. “This had been brought to the attention of the board and management, but may have fallen on deaf ears.”
Damages of $15,000 were sought in the complaint. Wagner said his client eventually reached an undisclosed agreement with the condo board.
Following the building’s collapse, the condominium association is now facing further lawsuits, one of which is seeking $5 million in damages for the condominium board’s claimed “failure to adequately safeguard the lives and property” of tenants by disregarding structural concerns with the structure.
In a statement to ABC News, a spokesman for the condominium association said, “While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, our emphasis remains on caring for our friends and neighbours during this difficult time.” “We are continuing to assist municipal, state, and local officials in their search and recovery operations, as well as our investigation into the reasons for the disaster. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all emergency rescue workers, both professionals and volunteers, for their hard efforts.”
According to Wagner, “The collapse of the Champlain Tower South condominiums should serve as a wake-up call to every condominium board of directors in Florida… Associations may occasionally forgo critical maintenance and repairs in favour of taking a chance.”
Following the findings of the 2018 study, repairs on Champlain Tower South were just getting started, and work to rebuild the roof was underway when the building collapsed.
“Once we stop rescuing people, everything takes on a whole new meaning, and at that point, everything is going to be looked at in every manner,” Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose Diaz told ABC News on Sunday.