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Surfside Condo Collapse: Feds Grant Evidence Access to Legal Teams

Surfside Condo Collapse Federal Investigators

After a recent public dispute over control of evidence in the Surfside condominium collapse lawsuit, federal investigators and officials in Miami-Dade County are working to grant evidence access to legal teams in the suit (Miami Herald). While the trial for the Surfside lawsuit is set for March 2023, the complex nature of the collapse means that engineers and expert witnesses require additional time to investigate the evidence.

Federal investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently asserted their authority to retain control of the physical evidence in the Surfside condominium collapse, citing their recent progress with the analysis as “intensifying.” In response, Miami-Dade County Judge Michael Hanzman decried the move, saying that the plaintiffs deserve timely evidence access in pursuit of justice.

Complex Investigations in Surfside Condo Case

Just as the building was beginning a 40-year safety review, Champlain Towers South collapsed in Surfside, Florida on June 24, 2021, killing 98 people. Since that time, federal investigators with the NIST have worked to understand the cause of the collapse.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the NIST has $22 million in congressional funding to study Champlain Towers’ original design, building updates and deterioration, how nearby construction played a role in compromising the structure, and an inspection of the physical debris from the collapse, among other objectives. The NIST says that the integrity of the Champlain Towers condo collapse study is a necessity in the organization’s understanding of building failures (Miami Herald).

At this time, physical evidence in the case-consisting of rubble transported from the collapse site-is being stored in a facility close to Miami-Dade International Airport.

Judge Hanzman Urged Feds to Offer Evidence Access Amidst Needs of Victims and Families

The NIST’s intention for a thorough investigation has brought recent tensions with some parties to the lawsuit, many of whom face pressing concerns related to the case’s resolution.

Plaintiffs in the case include former renters who lost property in the collapse as well as family members of the victims, who are bringing wrongful death claims.

Judge Hanzman urged federal investigators to consider the urgency of plaintiffs’ concerns and to allow experts in the case to begin their own investigations of physical evidence. Now, the NIST is working with Miami-Dade County authorities to arrange joint access.

Surfside Lawsuit Seeks to Hold Nearby Eighty Seven Park Tower Liable

Among other lawsuits, a class-action lawsuit filed in November 2021 seeks to hold the nearby Eighty Seven Park tower liable for the collapse of neighboring Champlain Towers South.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that the building of the luxury development adjacent to Champlain Towers was a cause of the collapse, along with Champlain’s structural vulnerabilities. While the suit acknowledges Champlain’s structural disrepair, it contends that excavation at the Eighty Seven Park site led to vibrations that further damaged Champlain, leaving residents unsafe.

Another case in Miami-Dade County is seeking to sell the existing Champlain Towers site in order to provide compensation for victims. Judge Hanzman approved a $120 million sale to a developer in September 2021 (ABC Local 10 News).