'Despicable': Lawsuit hits collapsed condo's association as its VP remains missing

·3 min read

The lawyer who represents the owners of Champlain Towers South blasted a lawsuit filed against the condo association less than 24 hours after the building collapsed to the ground, killing at least four and leaving 159 missing.

“I would categorize it as despicable,” said Donna Berger, a lawyer with the Becker law firm, said of the suit, which seeks more than $5 million in damages for condominium owners.

“The board’s focus is firmly on helping locate more than 150 unaccounted for people, not dealing with an owner who has decided that while there are still people buried under the building to file a class-action lawsuit,” she said.

The association is a not-for-profit company that to represents the owners of the 136 units in the building. Each owner owns their unit plus a fraction of the common areas. Owners then elect seven members to the board.

The board met for more than two hours on Friday. Absent from that meeting was its vice president, whom Berger said is believed to be among the missing. It was a difficult meeting, she said.

“I don’t think the tears stopped,” Berger said.

Manuel Drezner, a nearby property owner, filed the lawsuit with his lawyer at 11:29 p.m. on Thursday night against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc.

More: Collapsed Miami condo had been sinking into Earth as early as the 1990s, researchers say

More: 'Please don't leave me': Boy trapped in Florida condo rubble rescued by man walking dog

The filing alleges the association did not provide adequate protection for residents and visitors to the building, did not repair structural problems and failed to prevent the “catastrophic” collapse of the building.

“This is personal,” Berger said. “This isn’t just a professional relationship. We’ve worked with and for members of this community for years.”

Berger said the association will likely hire a forensic engineer to get to the bottom of what happened. That would be in addition to any investigations that government agencies decide to perform.

The association was in the process of making repairs as part of a certification process that Miami-Dade County requires every 40 years, Berger said. She said the engineer recommended the roof be replaced as soon as possible, and recommended concrete work on the building envelope. She said the association was still getting bids on the concrete work when the building collapsed.

The 40-year certification process, however, did not require a crew to excavate around the foundation or look at the pilings. That’s what leads Berger to believe this was likely a sub-surface issue that would not have been detected with the naked eye.

“Here’s what’s interesting, to file a lawsuit you have to be able to connect some dots,” Berger said. “You have to be able to say the defendant did something wrong.

“The mayor, FEMA, the fire chief, the governor, engineers — no one has yet been able to decide what happened with this building, and yet somehow this individual and his attorney has decided this in 24 hours,” Berger said. “There needs to be a deliberative process.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Collapsed condo association's attorney calls lawsuit despicable

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting