Florida Grand Jury to Probe How to Prevent Disasters Like Champlain Towers Building Collapse

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 8, 2021 Updated: July 8, 2021

A grand jury in Florida will explore ways to prevent future disasters like the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers condo building last month, which left dozens of people dead.

In a July 7 statement, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she has called on members of the Spring Term Miami-Dade County Grand Jury to “look into how we can prevent such a disaster from occurring again, not just in Surfside, and not just in condominiums, but in all buildings and structures in the coastal, intercoastal, and surrounding areas of our county, state, and nation.”

Rundle said the grand jury probe would come pending the conclusion of a long-term investigation that will determine the cause of the June 24 Champlain Towers South building collapse. She noted that Florida law requires the work of the grand jury to remain confidential, and so “we will not be able to share with you any specifics of what they are doing,” but a report from the investigation would be presented at the end of the grand jury’s term. The report could recommend criminal charges or needed reforms.

It comes as the quest to learn why the building collapsed has moved to the legal system, with authorities opening criminal and civil investigations into the disaster, which has killed at least 60 people and left 80 missing as of July 8. At least six lawsuits have been filed by Champlain Towers families.

“The whole world wants to know what happened here,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a July 6 news conference. Everyone, she said, wants to know “what could have been prevented and how we make sure it never happens again.”

One lawyer involved in the litigation said the collapse raises widespread concerns about infrastructure issues and the trust put in those responsible for them.

“We deserve to be able to walk into buildings without worrying that they’re going to come crumbling around us and to know that our loved ones can go to bed at night without worrying that they’re going to plummet 12 stories to the ground below in their sleep,” said Jeffrey Goodman, whose Philadelphia-based firm filed suit on behalf of the children of missing resident Harold Rosenberg.

Building Collapse Miami
Workers walk past the collapsed and subsequently demolished Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., on July 6, 2021. (Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

The lawsuits filed to date accuse the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, and in some cases a local architect and engineer, of negligence for failing to address serious structural problems noted as far back as 2018. A Surfside town building inspector had also been part of the discussions, and Goodman’s firm has given notice of plans to add the town as a defendant.

“The role of building owners and architects and engineers and inspectors and safety professionals is to make sure that buildings are safe for their occupants to be in,” Goodman said.

At a July 2 hearing, a judge appointed a receiver to represent the condominium association’s interests given the trauma experienced by board members, one of whom remains missing. The board has about $48 million in insurance coverage, while the oceanfront land is valued at $30 million to $50 million, the judge was told.

The judge said he hoped the litigation could be resolved quickly, perhaps within a year. Until then, he authorized the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, to provide $10,000 each to residents for temporary housing and $2,000 to cover funeral expenses.

Neither condominium association board members nor their attorneys responded to emails seeking comment.

A Florida grand jury is still reviewing the 2018 collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that killed six people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'