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More Champlain Towers Residents Sue Their Condo Association, Alleging Negligence

In this June 25, 2021, file photo, rescue personnel work at the remains of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla.
In this June 25, 2021, file photo, rescue personnel work at the remains of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Fla.

More residents of the Champlain Towers South are suing their condo board, claiming that the association was aware of, or should've been aware of, major structural issues throughout the building but failed to fix them. This failure resulted in injuries and death as well as the loss of residents' homes and other property, the complaints allege.

The death toll in the partial collapse of the 12-story building has reached 12, with another 149 people unaccounted for.

Since part of the building collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24, at least three lawsuits have been filed against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, which manages the building. NPR reviewed the court documents.

Raysa Rodriguez filed the latest suit on her and her fellow resident's behalf, but more complaints are expected, according to her lawyer. Rodriguez's lawsuit, which aims to serve as class action for other residents, includes terrifying, firsthand details of the night of the collapse.

Rodriguez recounts her escape from the wreckage

Rodriguez, the owner and resident of unit 907, recounts in her complaint that she woke up in the middle of her room on the night of the disaster, unsure of how she got there.

I didn't want to wake my neighbors and I ran to the balcony. I open the doors and a wall of dust hit me. I couldn't see anything outside.

Rodriguez said she then tried to call a neighbor and her brother, but couldn't reach them. She left her unit and saw signs of the devastation in the hallway: A concrete column had "pierced the hallway from floor to ceiling," she said. The elevator shafts were exposed and the doors were gone.

"I run to the exit, open the doors that lead to the outside stairwell and saw the devastation," she said. "The beachside of Champlain had collapsed, pancaked. I screamed in horror."

Rodriguez heard the voice of a woman calling for help from the rubble as she scrambled to find a way out. Eventually, Rodriguez, a neighbor, the neighbor's 10-year-old son and their puppy, and an 80-year-old resident managed to escape together though a second floor apartment's balcony, where firefighters rescued the group from the wreckage.

The attorneys for Rodriguez, Adam M. Moskowitz and his law firm, are requesting the judge to consolidate all similar claims tied to the Champlain Towers South collapse. Moskowitz is also asking that he be made the lead counsel in the class action case.

He added in a statement that he has been asked to represent numerous families and would be filing additional complaints this week.

"It's extremely important to start this process right away to protect all residents and their relatives and get to the bottom of exactly what happened," he wrote. "The legal and class action process ensures that all evidence is preserved and all class members are treated fairly."

Two other residents filed suits soon after the collapse

Crews work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South residential condo. The rescuers are searching urgently for the scores of souls buried beneath the fallen 12-story wing of the Champlain Towers condo building.
Gerald Herbert / AP
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Crews work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South residential condo. The rescuers are searching urgently for the scores of souls buried beneath the fallen 12-story wing of the Champlain Towers condo building.

Two other Champlain Towers South residents, Steve Rosenthal and Manuel Drezner, filed similar lawsuits shortly after the building's collapse.

At the heart of these recent complaints is the assertion that the condo association should've known about the structural issues with the building and didn't act quickly to ensure those problems were fixed.

Reports in the days following the disaster revealed a 2018 structural engineering report that detailed numerous problems with the building that needed to be addressed quickly. An April letter from the condo board showed the significant deterioration required an estimated $15 million for repairs.

Those reports are being used in the lawsuits as evidence of the board's alleged negligence.

Steve Rosenthal, a resident of unit 705, says in his lawsuit filed on Saturday that he was also inside the building at the time of the collapse. His complaint cites the report's findings and comments made by the condo association's lawyer admitting to the signs of the building's deterioration.

Residents in the complex "were kept in the dark and had no warning of impending catastrophe," Rosenthal claims.

Rosenthal also alleges that, in his effort to escape the building, he inhaled hazardous dust and fumes as the building collapsed that likely will have long-term impacts on his health. He is seeking damages for personal injury, property damage and breach of contract.

Drezner filed his lawsuit Friday. His suit, which also aims to start a class action, seeks damages that exceed $5 million, with a specific amount to be determined during a trial.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.