Eighty Seven Park condo association, construction firms added to Surfside collapse lawsuit
Stantec, Geosonics and Florida Civil are newest named defendants
The survivors and families of the victims of the deadly Surfside condo collapse sued Eighty Seven Park’s condo association and additional companies involved in the construction of the luxury condo tower next door to Champlain Towers South.
The third amended complaint names the architecture firm Stantec, vibration monitoring firm Geosonics, and engineering firm Florida Civil that was responsible for overseeing water removal from the site, as well as Eighty Seven Park’s condo association as defendants. It was filed as part of the main Miami-Dade Circuit Court complaint seeking class action status, and comes weeks after the first major settlements were reached in the case.
The amended suit alleges that the former president of Eighty Seven Park’s condo association knew or had reason to know about the damage the construction was causing, and that the firms involved in construction were negligent in their work.
The suit does not specify the amount of damages sought from Eighty Seven Park’s condo association and the three newly added firms.
Still, sources close to the case estimate damages sought in the entire litigation could run from $600 million to $2 billion.
Eighty Seven Park in Miami Beach was built directly south of Champlain Towers South in Surfside. The Terra-led development team was previously named as a defendant in the second amended complaint, filed late last year, which alleges that the team ignored warnings about damage to Champlain Towers South from Eighty Seven Park’s construction.
Condo developers typically turn over control of their projects’ condo associations after the majority of units have been sold, and the associations then assume the responsibilities and liability of the developers. In the case of Eighty Seven Park, its condo association was led by Michael Piazza, who is senior vice president of design and construction for Terra, from November 2018 to May 2021, just one month prior to the collapse.
The latest complaint alleges that Piazza knew or had reason to know that the construction of Eighty Seven Park harmed Champlain. It states that Piazza had received a 2020 inspection report by Champlain’s own engineer, Morabito Consultants, showing structural damage to the building.
Piazza did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Eighty Seven Park’s condo association. The association is now led by Benjamin Bram, Sheryl Kaye and Daniel Glass, state records show.
As president of the association, Piazza was responsible for making sure that the design, construction and installation of the public beach access walkway that was 87th Terrace was “performed in a reasonably safe manner,” the suit says.
Eighty Seven Park’s condo association’s responsibilities include maintaining the 87th Terrace easement area and ensuring that it did not “create a danger to the public and owners, residents, and inhabitants” of Champlain Towers South, according to the complaint. 8701 Collins Development LLC, the Terra-led entity that built the luxury condo tower, obtained a larger footprint when it acquired the street separating it from Champlain.
The plaintiffs allege that the association breached its duties, and that the construction and design damaged Champlain’s foundation wall.
The claims against the newly added Eighty Seven Park construction firm defendants largely allege that their negligence in doing their work contributed to the collapse in the early morning hours of June 24 that killed 98 people.
Edmonton, Canada-based Stantec, which also was Eighty Seven Park’s construction administrator, was “intimately involved” in the sheet-pile driving, a process that allegedly created high vibrations that were largely blamed for playing a role in the collapse, according to the complaint.
Stantec refuted the allegations.
“We designed Eighty Seven Park as part of a diverse project team of architects, engineers, and contractors, and we stand by the caliber of our work,” the firm said in an emailed statement. “Beyond that, we will not comment on active litigation.”
Warrendale, Pennsylvania-based Geosonics only tracked vibrations for part of the time in March 2016 and allowed work to continue, even though vibrations along Champlain’s south foundation wall exceeded industry standards of 0.5 inches per second multiple times a day for several days, causing structural damage to Champlain, according to the complaint.
The company knew or should have known that allowing the high vibrations would pose a “grave risk of harm” to Champlain Towers South, the suit says.
Geosonics representatives who answered the phone at the Davie and Warrendale offices declined comment. The company did not respond to an emailed follow-up inquiry.
Oakland Park-based Florida Civil developed a plan for “dewatering,” or pumping out water from the Eighty Seven Park site, that did not include a way for the company to monitor this work’s “potentially catastrophic impact” on Champlain, despite warnings by the project’s geotechnical engineer and inspector NV5, according to the complaint. More than 100 gallons of water were removed from the Eighty Seven Park site, yet Florida Civil’s plan included no procedure to recharge the water table, resulting in a “dangerous drawdown” of the water table underneath Champlain, affecting its structural stability, the suit alleges.
Florida Civil declined comment.
The litigation continues to move forward. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman is expected to approve at the end of this month an $83 million settlement for unit owners. The funds would likely come from a combination of insurance payouts and the proceeds of the sale of the oceanfront property. An auction of the site is expected in April.
Morabito, the Maryland-based engineering company that Champlain hired for its 40-year inspection and that was supervising restoration, as well as the Champlain association’s law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, were also named defendants, but settled the litigation through mediation.
In an emailed statement, Morabito denied any liability for the collapse, adding that it did its work in line with the “highest industry standards.”
“But we also firmly believe that the families who have suffered from this tragedy deserve compensation so that they may focus on healing,” Morabito’s statement continued. “We therefore applaud the settlement reached by our insurers to resolve these difficult issues fairly and expeditiously.”
Morabito and Becker & Poliakoff’s tentative settlement agreements were announced at a Feb. 23 court hearing on the litigation, although the settlement amounts have not been disclosed.
The two firms are still included as defendants in the third amended complaint, likely because their settlements have not yet received final court approval.