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Condominiums that were in the path of Hurricane Ian need structural engineering assessments | Property Insurance Protection Law Blog



I was selected by the judge who oversaw the Champlain Tower collapse in Sunrise, Florida, to act as insurance counsel for the class of victims. There were many lessons that all condominium boards, their attorneys and property managers should learn from studying that tragedy. One of these is the role of inspections for critical areas of the condominium’s structural integrity.

Even without being in Hurricane Ian’s path, a condominium was evacuated this week after an engineering assessment:

An evacuation order has suddenly forced out residents of a 14-story oceanfront building on the same avenue where a condominium collapse killed nearly 1

00 people last year.

The city posted an unsafe structure notice Thursday night at the Port Royale condominium, Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said in an email.

A structural engineering report prompted the evacuation of the 164-unit structure, which is undergoing required recertification. An engineer discovered that a main support beam identified for repair 10 months ago had shifted and that a crack in the beam had expanded, and other structural supports may need repair as well, the report said.

One resident, renovation contractor Marash Markaj, who lived in the building for more than six years, said the damage extends beyond a single support beam.

“I’ve seen the problems for many years,” Markaj told The Associated Press. He said he tried to report the problems — including cracks in a column and water standing in the garage area for weeks at a time — to building management and to the city’s building department.1

A point of the title and that I draw attention to this news is that the assessment must be followed up in time if it finds damage or need for repair. Consequently, condominiums should have an initial assessment. Then, if something is found that needs structural repair, it needs a timeline for repair that is acceptable to the engineer. Finally, timely follow-up assessments must be made to ensure that the damage does not become critical before it is finally repaired. This protocol was not followed by Champlain, its attorneys, and those involved in leadership roles. This lack of protocol was ultimately fatal.

Merlin Law Group has been involved and represented policyholders with structural damage caused by hurricanes since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Each hurricane has different wind fields that affect buildings in different ways. Hurricane Ian hit hard in some areas. One of its distinguishing features is the length of time its high wind bands lasted for many hours in some locations. Prolonged high winds can cause subtle damage to buildings that most people won’t notice. It takes a professional to carefully inspect and uncover them.

What is the benefit of a technical assessment that finds no damage and structural problems? This can be reported to the association members, the condominium’s insurance agent, and insurers. It will help with future insurance rates and increase the value of the condominiums.

What is the downside if something is found damaged or in need of repair? Nothing. This is the only correct and responsible way to think after the lessons of Champlain Towers.

Honesty and transparency about people’s safety and structural safety of the building is a job for the condominium management. From either a personal safety or financial standpoint, damage management and structural issues must be addressed immediately. They will only get worse and more expensive if they are delayed. We need to find and fix structural problems faster before they become critical and much more costly.

The bottom line is that if you have a leadership role in a condominium association and it was in the path of Hurricane Ian, you should advise the association to obtain an engineering structural assessment to look for damage and possible structural problems.

Engineer Bill Bracken and I have been asked to give a presentation on lessons learned from the Champlain Tower collapse at the Windstorm Insurance Conference, which will be held in Orlando on January 24-27.

Today’s thought

Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor’s wall is on fire.
— Horace
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1 Kozan, Daniel and Frisaro, Freida. Miami Beach apartment building evacuated near fatal collapse. Unbiased Press. 28 October 2022. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/miami-evacuations-surfside-building-collapse-6dbd7f75ce91c27ab358e0d0ab0794fb


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