The lawsuits continue in the wake of the Champlain Towers condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, which killed 98 people on June 24.
A class-action complaint updated on Nov. 10 alleges that the towers were "badly damaged and destabilized" because of excavation and construction at the neighboring 18-story Eighty Seven Park condominium, according to court documents.
The suit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of the collapse's victims and their families, alleges that 8701 Collins Development ignored warnings about vibrations and other issues from residents of Champlain Towers South (CTS). The suit also names John Moriarty & Associates of Florida, a part of Winchester, Massachusetts-based John Moriarty & Associates, which was the general contractor at Eighty Seven Park (pictured above).
As contractors drove sheet piles 40 feet into the ground at Eighty Seven Park, they "cracked tiles and walls at CTS and shook the structure," according to the complaint. The plaintiffs say that more than 80% of the vibration readings taken at the site exceeded safe limits.
"The construction activities on the Eighty Seven Park project site, namely, the vibratory sheet pile driving and vibration-producing compaction activities, decreased the structural stability and life expectancy of CTS and was a proximate cause of and contributor to CTS’s collapse," according to the suit.
While there have been a number of suits filed since the collapse, this is the first one that has targeted construction at the neighboring Eighty Seven Park, according to television station WPLG in Miami.
Multiple points of failure
Earlier investigations have revealed multiple points of failure, including questionable construction practices, that could have contributed to the tragedy. Issues have been raised with the design, construction and maintenance at CTS in the months since the deadly collapse.
But the construction next door could have also contributed, Gregg Schlesinger, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attorney and former construction engineer and general contractor, told Construction Dive.
"There are a million other little contributing causes," Schlesinger said. "You had a building being built to the south that was banging pilings 30 or 40 feet away. Did that accelerate the failure? Yeah, it did because they were in the middle of repairing your building."
Law firm Greenberg Traurig attorneys for the developers, Coconut Grove, Florida-based Terra Group, responded to Construction Dive with a background fact sheet claiming that the construction team at Eighty Seven Park did not cause any structural damage to CTS and that neither "their work or equipment was capable of damaging the reinforced concrete that failed."
Additionally, they pointed out that all work at Eighty Seven Park was completed two years before the collapse and foundation work was completed more than five years before the collapse. They noted that some parts of CTS that were close to Eighty Seven Park — the south privacy wall and the perimeter wall beneath it — stood after the collapse. The southernmost part of CTS, which was the closest part of the building to Eighty Seven Park, and a large area of the pool deck that abuts the privacy wall and is close to Eighty Seven Park, also remained intact, according to the attorneys.
"The threshold levels for vibration during the installation of sheet piles were established by 8701 Collins Development LLC’s engineering professionals," said Greenberg Traurig attorney David B. Weinstein, in a statement to Construction Dive. "All of the vibrations were well below the maximum threshold for safe vibrations levels for residential structures and were generated from work that was completed more than five years prior to the collapse."
Attorneys representing the developers of Eighty Seven Park from Greenberg Traurig issued a statement to Construction Dive denying blame for the collapse. "As numerous media reports have documented, Champlain Towers South was improperly designed, poorly constructed, significantly underfunded and inadequately maintained and repaired," said Greenberg Traurig attorney David B. Weinstein. "We expect that a full review of the facts — and the ongoing investigation by NIST [the National Institute of Standards and Technology] — will affirm our position."
A spokesperson for Moriarty provided a similar statement to the Miami Herald also pointed to construction and maintenance at Champlain Towers South as the reason for the deadly collapse.
"We are confident that none of the activities at 8701 had any effect on the Champlain Towers Condominium South," according to the statement. "The collapse of the tower is a terrible tragedy, but the facts speak for themselves. Champlain Towers South suffered from a long history of inherent design flaws, substandard construction methods, and inadequate maintenance."
After purchasing the Howard Johnson Dezerland Beach Hotel located at 8701 Collins, which sat beside CTS, from Dezer Properties for a reported $65 million in August 2013, Terra World Investments, an affiliate of Terra Group, razed the hotel. One of the suit's defendants, 8701 Collins Development, was a company established by developer Terra Group and Terra World Investments to carry out development at the Eighty Seven Park condominium.
The complaint essentially added new defendants to the class action claim filed in August against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association.
The nine defendants named include:
- 8701 Collins Development
- Terra Group
- Terra World Investments
- John Moriarty & Associates of Florida
- Hollywood, Florida-based provider of professional and technical engineering and consulting solutions NV5
- New York-based engineering and construction consulting firm DeSimone Consulting Engineers
- Champlain Towers South Condominium Association
- Sparks, Maryland-based structural engineering firm Morabito Consultants
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based law firm Becker & Poliakoff, P.A
Additionally, Terra gained control of 87th Terrace, a 50-foot-wide public right-of-way, with a sidewalk and parking lot that sat 10 feet from CTS, according to court documents. Without the purchase of 87th Terrace, construction on Eighty Seven Park would have occurred approximately 60 to 70 feet away from the condominium.
In addition, the suit claims that the defendants mishandled removing groundwater and stormwater from the construction site by discharging water onto the southern CTS foundation wall.
Construction of the walkway also played into these problems, causing "water to infiltrate, flood and saturate the CTS foundation wall, basement parking garage and the critical structural foundation," according to the suit.
In a statement to Construction Dive, Greenberg Traurig attorney Michael Thomas disputed these assertions of water infiltration causing problems at CTS.
“Champlain Towers South was plagued for decades by flooding and other water intrusion issues on its pool deck, privacy wall and parking garage," Thomas said. "These issues were compounded by a defective design, defective construction and lack of proper maintenance. Eighty Seven Park had nothing to do with water-related issues at CTS.’’
As investigators continue to work to determine the cause of the collapse, NIST is seeking answers. In a recent update on its investigation, representatives from the agency didn’t offer clues on why the tower collapsed but did provide some insight into its data collection process, according to television station WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida. The team is using remote sensing, high-resolution scanning and structural remodeling to analyze data.