Surfside Condo Collapse: A 360-Degree Insurance Coverage Analysis

Journal of Emerging Issues in Litigation

PUBLISHED ON: February 28, 2022

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Abstract: The horrific and fatal collapse of Champlain Towers South in the summer of 2021 not only shook the ground in Surfside, Florida, but it brought into question the integrity of structures everywhere. If professionals in the construction, real estate, and building management industries were relaxed about signs of structural decay before, they are not anymore. The insurance industry also has reasons to worry, as potentially responsible players turn to their policies to defend or indemnify them for claims for accidents causing losses including from property damage, personal injury, or death. In this article the authors evaluate the factors that are addressed when coverage determinations are made, as well as the various types of policies that come into play.

On June 24, 2021, at approximately 1:25 a.m., Champlain Towers South, a 12-story beachfront condominium in Surfside, Florida (the “Condominium”), partially collapsed, destroying 55 of its 136 units, rendering the rest uninhabitable, and killing 98 people. The entire structure has since been demolished. This incident stunned the nation with shocking and tragic images. Its consequences are reverberating throughout the insurance industry.

The condominium’s collapse has already prompted litigation and insurance claims. More will certainly have been lodged by the time this article is published. In this article, we will illustrate how different forms of insurance can be called on to address a large loss in a residential setting such as this. Some of the relevant insurance coverages include Commercial Property, Commercial General Liability, Directors and Officers Liability, Errors and Omissions (Professional) Liability, and Public Officials Liability. This article does not discuss excess or umbrella liability policies, which often follow the form of the underlying primary policy or policies.

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Allen R. Wolff (awolff@andersonkill.com) is a shareholder in Anderson Kill’s New York office, where he concentrates on the intersection of construction litigation and insurance recovery. Allen is co-chair of the firm’s Construction Industry Practice group and Corporate and Commercial Litigation Practice group. He advises and represents policyholders—building owners, developers, contractors, retailers, municipalities, financial institutions, hospitality businesses, condominium associations, and tenants’ associations—in a range of insurance coverage disputes.

Allen’s colleagues Ethan W. Middlebrooks (emiddlebrooks@andersonkill.com) and Jason Kosek (jkosek@andersonkill.com), are also attorneys in Anderson Kill’s New York office. They also concentrate on insurance recovery for policyholders and other complex matters.