Focusing in on the Champlain Towers South

     The continued reporting concerning the causes of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, is placing a new spotlight on the complex principles associated with condominiums in south Florida. The outcome involving this local tragedy will be shaped by how we move forward.

     For a baseline, let us talk about the most gripping engineering disaster in the United States before the catastrophe of the Champlain: the Hyatt collapse of the suspended hallways in Kansas City, Collapse ReportMissouri hotel on July 17, 1981.  Not often mentioned, having happened 40 years ago, it is instructive as to what is now likely to unfold.  The Hyatt Company during that time had made a name that was associated with architectural wizardry in hotel design.  The K.C. Hyatt opened on July 1, 1980.  Within the multi-story atrium in the flagship hotel, there were suspended open walkways, held in place by steel hangar rods.  On  the evening of July 17, 1981, just a little over a year after the opening, during a particularly crowded event attend by 1600 people, the fourth-floor walkway collapsed  and in the cascade of additional damage, 114 people died and over 200 were injured. The Champlain is on the verge of exceeding that death toll.  Like the Champlain, it became the center of riveting media coverage with the last rescue being made nine hours after the initial structural failure and people losing limbs as they had to be cut from the wreckage. 

   Interestingly, the Champlain was finished at about the same time, in 1981.  It has been observed that in its forty-year history, it survived hurricanes.  Regardless, it was also reported that the building’s structural integrity was suspect, with the degradation of reinforced concrete support structures due to corrosion of the reinforcing steel, often referred to as “rebar”.  Mention has also been made of a cause related to the improper original installation of the rebar.  It will take some time to sort this out.  The Hyatt disaster was not fully explained until May 1982, almost a year later, in an article under the guidance of the National Bureau of Standards.  It was more than 250 pages with an appendix of more than 100 pages.  Expect something similar as to the collapse of the Champlain.

   All focus in the Champlain collapse will be on what the Board did when they first discovered the problems and started acting in 2018.  Of course, the origins of the problem will be researched, but those actions, forty years in the past, no matter how egregious, will not give rise to a right to be made whole by those involved.  Lessons should be learned from the past and so we bring this to your attention.  Therefore, both Peter S. Sachs and Louis Caplan have called upon the Governor to empanel a special state-wide task force. The Florida Bar and Broward County have/are organizing task forces of their own limited to their areas of expertise or jurisdiction. The push toward a unified standard state-wide will go a long way in protecting against disasters like this in the future.


Michael S Weiner, Esq.

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