Champlain Condo Collapse Trial Set for March 2023, Condo Association Deflects Blame

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The class-action lawsuit over the collapsed Champlain Towers South will head to trial in March 2023, just as the building’s condominium association deflected blame for catastrophe in a new court filing.

Surviving family members and residents of the tragedy, which killed 98 people last June, filed a class-action lawsuit this past November, alleging the Champlain South Condo Association neglected its duties to protect and adequately renovate the building. 

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The judge overseeing the case, Michael Hanzman of Miami-Dade Circuit Court, wanted the trial to begin as early as July 2022. “Justice delayed is denied,” he said in a court hearing Wednesday.

After lawyers for the defendants protested, claiming experts needed additional time to perform tests to determine the cause of the partial collapse, Hanzman relented and set the trial date for March 2023. 

The decision comes days after the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association filed a 214-page counterclaim, arguing that fault lies with all the other defendants named in the class-action suit, including the professionals it hired and the developer of the Eight Seven Park condo next door.

The association claims that it properly performed its duties, having hired engineers, Morabito Consultants, in 2018, ahead of the building’s 40-year safety inspection.  

“No member of the board of directors was a professional engineer, general contractor, or otherwise qualified to conduct or oversee the 40-year recertification process without professional assistance,” the counterclaim states. 

Morabito’s report, which was publicly released soon after the collapse, warned of “major errors” in the Champlain structure, adding that proposed renovations would be “extremely expensive” and “a major disturbance to the occupants of the condominium.” Morabito denied responsibility for the tragedy in its court response

But the association alleges the report didn’t go far enough, claiming it did not warn that “any of the identified issues threatened the life or safety of the condominium’s occupants and visitors.” The association is seeking $750,000 in damages and attorney fees. 

In a separate 112-page filing, the counterclaim also took aim at the law firm representing the association, Becker & Poliakoff, claiming lawyers failed to adequately act on and further investigate Morabito’s findings. 

After the report’s release, a concerned resident, Susana Rodriguez, emailed Becker & Poliakoff lawyers asking for advice. The attorneys dismissed her concerns by saying that Rodriguez’s letter did “not actually ask a question” and that “no response can be provided when no question has been asked” in their response, according to the counterclaim.  

Becker & Poliakoff’s denies liability. “Becker mourns those who have been lost and stands behind its professional counsel. Becker did what law firms are supposed to do – it provided advice on legal matters to the condo association board of directors. Its representation did not include counsel on property management, structural engineering or technical matters related to construction or maintenance,” the firm said in a statement.   

The Champlain building was mired with infighting over the condo’s decay. In 2015, a resident, Matilde Zaidenweber, sued the condo association for $15,000 over water damage in her unit, court records show. A judge dismissed the suit three years later. 

Renovations had commenced right before the crash, following years of delays. The cost of the repairs had ballooned to over $15 million.

The counterclaim also reiterated allegations made in November’s filing, claiming the construction of the neighboring luxury condo contributed to the collapse, and detailing the conduct of the developer, David Martin’s Terra and its engineers, NV5 and DeSimone Consulting Engineers. Terra has denied liability.

Update: The article was updated to include Becker & Poliakoff’s statement.

Julia Echikson can be reached at jechikson@commercialobserver.com.