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What Caused the Champlain Tower Collapse?

on  Premises Liability

On June 24, 2021, a long-standing luxury condominium in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. The cause of the 12-story building’s collapse is currently unknown. However, this is not the first time a condominium has collapsed in the state of Florida. This devastating collapse has led to dozens of injuries and many lost lives.

Although the cause of the Champlain tower collapse is still under investigation, there are a limited number of potential causes. The building was built in 1981 and was due for a 40 year recertification this year (2021). One of the  purposes of the recertification process is to confirm structural safety of the building. What is most alarming is that a structural field survey was conducted in 2018, which found concrete deterioration and other “minor” damage. However, the survey does not suggest that any of the damage could lead to a collapse.

Absent an act of terrorism, the most likely cause of the building’s collapse was either a construction defect or a foundation failure likely caused by soil liquefaction. These are the types of dangers that a proper and unbiased recertification inspection may have identified.

What is Soil Liquefaction?

Soil liquefaction occurs when the spaces between the particles of sand or dirt fill with water—the amount of water influences how tightly the soil or sand particles are pressed together. Essentially, liquefaction occurs when solid ground becomes loose due to an influx of water. Soil liquefaction is caused by deposits of loose soil, high groundwater table causing a saturated soil, or a triggering event such as an earthquake.

Did Soil Liquefaction Cause a Foundation Failure?

The Champlain Tower was a beachfront property that was constructed along Miami Beach. Beachfront condominiums like Champlain Tower, require specific types of pilings, such as auger piles, to support their structural integrity. A piling is a vertical structure drilled deep into the ground to create the foundation for the building.

However, pilings are often disturbed and may even fail due to soil liquefaction. As the density of the soil surrounding the pilings changes due to liquefaction, the pilings can shift. While minor shifts affecting a small percentage of a building’s foundation will not lead to failure, years of structural shifts affecting most of the piling can lead to catastrophic failures.

Was Collapse Caused by an Underwater Earthquake on June 18th?

Foundation failures caused by soil liquefaction are most often caused by triggering events like earthquakes (which cause rapid shifts in soil density). Coincidentally, the U.S. Navy conducted an experiment involving a 40,000 pound underwater explosive 100 miles from Ponce Inlet in Volusia County on June 18, 2021, just 6 days prior to the devastating building collapse. The explosion registered an earthquake with a 3.9 magnitude.  The Navy has not conducted a test like this since 1987. Could this underwater earthquake have triggered the soil liquefaction which may have caused the collapse? Perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Was the Soil Liquefaction Caused by Rising Sea Levels?

However, soil liquefaction is not always caused by a triggering event.  As discussed earlier, soil liquefaction can be caused by high-water tables. What we do know for sure is that sea levels in Miami continue to rise. We also know that a rise in sea levels can lead to increased groundwater levels. Although the cause of the collapse has not yet been determined, it is certainly plausible that rising sea levels causing high-water tables led to soil liquefaction and the eventual collapse of the Champlain Tower.

Although the cause of the collapse has not yet been determined, various parties will be found liable. Moreover, it is unlikely the collapse was caused by one specific event or structural failure. The collapse was likely caused by a combination of structural failures that may or may not have been triggered by soil liquefaction. These parties may include the Champlain Tower Condominium association along with the numerous contractors, subcontractors, engineers, and architects who have worked on the Champlain Tower and its neighboring condominiums.  If you lost a loved one due to the tragic building collapse, call our office at (305) 694-2676 for a free and confidential consultation with Prosper Shaked to discuss your options in pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit.