Determining Liability in a Building Collapse

Determining Liability in a Building Collapse

When you enter a building, regardless if it’s a one or multi-story structure, the last thing on your mind is wondering if it’s going to collapse; you just automatically presume the building is safe. After all, countless people go in and out and no one seems worried. 

Unfortunately, buildings can and do collapse, and some even make the national headlines. The Surfside Condo collapse in Miami is a recent example of a building suddenly going down. 

Injuries are often catastrophic in a building collapse, so who’s responsible for the damages? Determining liability in a building collapse is often a time-consuming and complicated process. Often, more than one party is liable for any damages.

Investigating a Building Collapse

The reason a building experiences a structural failure isn’t always obvious. Sometimes, the cause is the result of negligence going back months and even years. Extreme weather like a hurricane may seem like an obvious reason for the collapse, but it’s not always the primary cause. The building’s structural supports may already be damaged before the storm hits.

An investigation is typically necessary to pinpoint the precise cause of the collapse. So, what does a building collapse investigation process involve? The investigation is extensive and may take years to complete, and the process includes:

  • Engineers will review the original cause of the structural damage
  • If a fire or explosion occurs, investigators will include fire and explosive experts
  • All surveillance footage on and around the scene is collected and reviewed
  • Construction plans and contracts are reviewed, including the original building design
  • Witnesses are interviewed

The investigation will also look over all accident and medical reports. Sometimes, determining the area where the most severe injuries occurred can provide clues as to why the building suddenly collapsed.

Who’s Liable in a Building Collapse

If you’re injured, sustain property damage, or both in a building collapse, chances are, you want to receive compensation. You’re also entitled to compensation for your damages. The only reason this doesn’t apply is if you’re the responsible party.

However, before starting the accident claim process, you need to know who’s liable. Without this information, your personal injury case isn’t going to go very far. You need to know who to name in your claim as the responsible party. In other words, you can’t file a claim against an unnamed defendant.

So, who’s liable in a building collapse claim? Sometimes, it’s only one party and in other cases, multiple individuals are responsible for the accident.

Property Owners

Even buildings designed and constructed to withstand strong storms and hurricane-force winds can experience structural degradation over time. The property owner is responsible for ensuring the building is properly maintained. This includes conducting regular inspections, usually once a year, and making any necessary repairs.

Property owners have a legal responsibility to their tenants. This includes both residential and commercial tenants. Property owners have a duty to provide a safe environment for their tenants. This means taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the building’s safety. 

Failing to do so may meet the standards for negligence if the building collapses. This means the property owner may be fully or partially financially responsible for covering any resulting damages.

Construction Companies

Construction companies, along with contractors and subcontractors, are often facing tight deadlines. Sometimes, they’re also dealing with budget shortfalls. This can result in some corners being cut to save time, money, or both. From the outside, this may not seem like it’s affecting the structural integrity of the building.

An example of this behavior is the 2019 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans. Several construction workers suffered injuries, including three fatalities. The accident resulted in OSHA issuing citations to 33 contractors working on the project. The citations range from unsafe work practices to issues with the structural integrity of the building.

A construction company and/or contractor may also be liable if they fail to properly train and supervise their staff. For example, improper training and supervision can lead to a worker making a costly mistake.

Material Manufacturers

Construction companies, whether it’s a new building or repairing an existing one, depend on manufacturers to provide quality materials. Remember, construction crews don’t manufacture the building’s materials. This is the responsibility of another company.

While defective building materials are rare in construction projects in the U.S., it can happen. The materials may develop a flaw during the manufacturing process. Sometimes, even the materials used may be subpar. For example, the steel in a support beam may be of a lesser quality. This can weaken the overall support system.

If the materials used during the building’s construction don’t meet regulatory standards, the manufacturer may be liable for the collapse.

Condo Associations

If you’re not sure what a condo association is, think of it as the governing body for the complex. Like an HOA (homeowners association), the group is responsible for creating the guidelines residents are required to obey. These guidelines can include when the building’s pool is open and what color you’re allowed to paint your front door.

The condo association is also responsible for maintaining the building’s safety in all public areas. Since the building is technically a public space, only the individual units are considered private areas, the association is responsible for all upkeep and repairs. 

Condo associations assume many of the responsibilities of a property owner, meaning that if the building collapses due to inadequate maintenance, the association may be the liable party in your injury claim.

Architecture Firms

Architecture firms are rarely liable for a building collapse, but this isn’t saying architects can’t make mistakes, only that there are multiple safeguards in place to ensure their designs and construction plans meet all building safety requirements. 

However, sometimes a design flaw slips through the cracks and it eventually results in a building collapse.

Determining Liability Can Be a Complicated Process

Hopefully, you’re never involved in a building collapse—however, if the unexpected does actually occur, you may be eligible to recover compensation for your damages. Before you can initiate a personal injury claim, it’s crucial to accurately identify the liable party or parties, a task that can be intricate and multifaceted. 

Consulting with an experienced building collapse attorney can streamline this process, offering you specialized legal insight and support to navigate the complexities of liability and compensation claims.


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