Surfside Condo Collapse – Preventable?

Surfside Condo Collapse – Preventable?

The condo collapse in Surfside, Florida is a terrible tragedy and our condolences go out to those impacted by the event.  As we get more news, one of the pieces uncovered is about a 2018 engineering report on the building.  The report indicates there was major structural damage to a concrete slab and waterproofing failed because it was improperly laid.  It is unknown whether this was the root cause for the failure, however, it raises the question many people will be asking in the aftermath – was this truly an “accident” or was this preventable?  Unfortunately, an update regarding the situation indicates this condo was about to undergo repairs for the structural issues found in 2018.  As a result of the collapse, the mayor of Miami-Dade County announced a 30-day audit of all buildings 40 years and older.

Purpose of Criminal Law

Lawsuits seeking answers and to assess negligence in Surfside were already filed in this case in.  For those who lost loved ones, it goes without saying that no amount of money will make the loss acceptable.  I suspect many are not filing these lawsuits for money.  At this juncture, it is more about one of the other purposes of tort law, which is to deter negligent behavior.  This was also recently seen in the trial of Derek Chauvin – one of the purposes of criminal law is to deter behavior we deem unacceptable by using punishment.  In the case of Chauvin, a jury of his peers listened to the evidence, determined he was guilty of some of the charges brought against him and the judge determined it was appropriate to sentence him to 22.5 years as punishment.  The purpose of holding someone accountable is to deter other people who may be faced with the same situation.  Ideally, the threat or fear of similar punishment will prevent them from committing the same actions.

Purpose of Tort Law

With the case of the condo collapse in Surfside, tort law functions in the same basic way.  By having a heavy financial disincentive for cutting corners, entities such as the condo owners will be less likely to ignore information which may endanger others.  Remember, the civil justice system only allows for money damages.  We cannot throw the owners of the condo in jail (although a separate, criminal action could be brought if the government believes there is enough evidence to meet their burden of proof), so the family members of those injured or killed in the collapse are left with seeking money damages.  Some of these people may seek other, non-traditional settlement terms.  For instance, they could require the defendants (the responsible parties) to make changes, such as a timelier fix when future issues are discovered.  This would be part of a settlement and not something a court  orders as part of the civil trial.  These types of changes brought on by tragic events have precedent, such as cases against big tobacco and car manufacturers which lead to safer products and warnings.

This was a terrible event that is still on-going, with many families not knowing what happened to their loved ones.  We hope all those impacted in Surfside are able to gain some measure of closure in the coming days.

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