Relatives of a father missing in the Surfside condo collapse filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, and want a judge to allow a drone to record the scene of the catastrophe as rescue workers search for survivors and bodies.
The lawsuit against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association was filed by children of Harold Rosenberg. An emergency hearing will be held Thursday in Miami-Dade circuit court over whether authorities should allow the drone to document the scene as part of the pending civil lawsuit.
Attorneys said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that a camera-equipped unmanned drone was crucial, and “it can be up there 24 hours day without any interference” to rescue efforts.
Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue is spearheading the search for survivors, and the county police’s homicide bureau is tasked with documenting and investigating the deaths. Federal authorities, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings in 2001, may wind up leading the probe into what caused the unprecedented collapse.
Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, whose firm has worked on numerous high-profile building collapses, said at the press conference that the victims of the disaster “have not had a voice or a set of eyes” during the rescue operation.
“The families don’t know what they’re documenting, and we don’t know what they’re documenting,” Mongeluzzi said. “Many times, for example, if there is a criminal investigation, that documentation is not made available to the families and victims of the collapse. There is no reason why the families shouldn’t be able to have their own access to the evidence in the case.”
The lawsuit was the fourth filed stemming from the catastrophic collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, which has so far claimed at least 16 lives and left 139 missing. Harold Rosenberg’s son and daughter-in-law were visiting the condo, and are also missing, attorneys said.
Relatives of Rosenberg, who lived in Unit 212 and remains missing after the collapse, filed the lawsuit Wednesday against the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Morabito Consultants and SD Architects. The lawsuit says the town of Surfside will eventually be named as a defendant.
The four parties “ignored obvious and shocking warning signs and indications that a catastrophe was imminent,” the lawsuit says. “Defendants knew for years leading up to this deadly collapse that the Champlain Towers South building posed an immediate and grave threat to the lives of the residents and occupants of the building, yet [they] failed to take the necessary steps to protect the building’s occupants.”
Morabito Consultants was hired by the association in 2018, and authored a report detailing “major structural damage” caused by a lack of proper drainage on the pool deck. Engineer Frank Morabito had also been hired to help the condo association prepare for the planned 40-year recertification process and create plans to repair and restore the building constructed in 1981.
The suit also claims that Surfside’s former building official, Rosendo Prieto, was informed of the damage and “ignored his duties and [told residents] it was safe.” Prieto was most recently working with the city of Doral, but has taken a leave of absence following the Surfside collapse.
The suit was filed by Steve, Mark and Shoshana Rosenberg, Harold Rosenberg’s children.
The law firms that filed the case are also asking a judge to allow its lawyers and experts to inspect the collapse scene “upon conclusion of all ongoing search and rescue efforts.” The suit was filed by Morgan & Morgan and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky. Search efforts are expected to last weeks.
Faced with the lawsuits and international scrutiny, the building’s condo association has retained the Washington, D.C., crisis public relations firm Levick Strategic Communications.
Three other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of survivors of the tragedy, including Raysa Rodriguez, whose complaint included a harrowing first-person account of her escape from the partially collapsed building.
Litigation in what may become the nation’s deadliest building failure will likely last years, as state and federal authorities work to discover what caused the collapse. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has also said that she will ask a grand jury to investigate the collapse and concerns about building safety.