Building Collapse: Causes and Liability

Posted by John Cofini on Tue, Jul 13, 2021 @ 11:18 AM

building collapse causes and liabilityOn June 24, a 136-unit condo in Surfside, Florida, partially collapsed. With many victims still missing, this heartbreaking tragedy serves as a serious wakeup call to property owners and developers across the country. According to AP News, the collapse in Surfside prompted an audit that has led to the evacuation of a nearby 156-unit building.

Many things can go wrong in the construction, renovation and maintenance of a building, but building collapse is an especially disastrous and frightening outcome.


The Possible Causes of Building Collapse

When buildings and other structures collapse, flaws in the original building design may be the root cause. Natural disasters and environmental conditions may also contribute, as can a lack of maintenance and repair work. Buildings may collapse decades after construction, as is the case in Surfside, but collapses are also possible during construction and renovation.

Business Insider consulted with structural engineers who identified poor maintenance, soil erosion under the foundation and building design flaws as possible issues that contribute to the collapse of a building.

The cause of the Surfside collapse is still under investigation, but some evidence has been presented. According to the BBC, a 2018 inspection identified “a major error” in the building’s design in the ground floor pool deck that resulted in water not draining. The report also stated that the waterproofing below the pool deck needed to be replaced because it was causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab.”

Other Building Collapses

The Surfside collapse was particularly devastating, but it is not the only building collapse to occur in the U.S. in recent years.

  • According to NOLA.com, the owners of a Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans have sued contractors and subcontractors over the deadly collapse that occurred in 2019. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the proper load calculations were not performed.
  • Click2Houston reports that six construction workers filed a lawsuit after they were injured in a partial building collapse at a Holiday Inn hotel. The lawsuit alleges that the workers were not properly trained, did not receive the proper protective equipment, and were working in a dangerous environment.
  • The Daily Hornet reports that wrongful death lawsuits have been filed in response to a partial collapse at the Marathon Oil Corporation headquarters in Houston. Three construction workers were killed when a precast concrete staircase collapsed.

Liability After a Building Collapse

CNN reports that at least two lawsuits have been filed already. The second lawsuit claims that the condominium association failed to address “major structural damages” that had been outlined in the 2018 report, and also refers to allegedly “unfit material used during the construction of the building.”

So far, the condominium association appears to be the target of lawsuits involving the Surfside collapse. However, contractors and subcontractors may also face liability after a building collapses. A real estate lawyer in Florida told Reuters, “Whether it be architects, engineers or contractors that had any involvement in this building, we’ll be looking at everybody to hold each party responsible for their negligence."

Preventing Building Collapse

When designing, constructing, repairing or maintaining a building, strong safety measures must be enforced to prevent the risk of collapse. Cutting corners or ignoring warning signs could result in disaster.

If you are a property owner or manager, meticulous records must be kept to document inspections, maintenance reports and maintenance decisions.

If you are a contractor, subcontractor or vendor involved in new developments, it’s important to ensure that everyone adheres to high standards, and that the proper contract terms and insurance policies are in place.

BNC Insurance is a go-to insurance resource for countless property owners and developers in the New York area. Contact us if you’d like to review your insurance and risk management processes.

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