Construction Accident Claims Involving Collapses: Proving Liability and Calculating Damages

Feb 1, 2022 | Construction Accidents

The Florida International University (FIU) pedestrian bridge collapse and Champlain Towers condominium collapse in Surfside were two massive, tragic events that made national headlines last year. But, while these events garnered national attention – and with good reason – they were far from the only building and bridge collapses that happened in 2021.

These types of accidents are far too common. While different structures fail for different reasons, many of these accidents involve the same overarching factors. Companies rush to make deadlines, they put profits before safety, and they ignore safety rules and regulations so that they can maximize their profits.

Pursuing Construction Accident Claims for Building and Bridge Collapses

Our construction accident lawyers have significant experience handling building and bridge collapse cases. This includes cases involving fully built structures (such as Champlain Towers South) as well as ongoing construction projects (such as the FIU bridge). In these types of cases, recovering just compensation requires thorough evidence of both: (i) the cause of the collapse, and (ii) the losses that victims and their families endure.

1. Proving the Cause of a Building or Bridge Collapse

Due to the nature of a collapse, investigating the cause of this type of accident presents unique challenges. Getting on the scene promptly is extremely important, but the overall investigative process can take weeks. It will often be necessary to engage multiple experts in construction, engineering, and other fields, and pinpointing the cause of the failure requires the ability to sift through literal mounds of evidence while evaluating all potential causal factors.

While this is a time-consuming process, it is also vital. Victims and their loved ones need to know who is responsible when a collapse happens—and this starts with determining the collapse’s cause. Multiple companies are involved in designing, constructing, inspecting, and maintaining buildings and bridges, and identifying the company (or companies) that are to blame for a collapse is a crucial step toward recovering just compensation.

Why Do Buildings and Bridges Collapse?

So, why do buildings and bridges collapse? Collapses can have numerous different causes. Buildings and bridges can collapse due to failures at all stages of the design and construction processes, and they can also collapse due to failures post-completion.

When we investigate building and bridge collapses, some examples of possible causes we examine include:

  • Building and Bridge Design Flaws – Design flaws are responsible for a significant percentage of all collapse accidents. While modern buildings and bridges may be less likely to collapse due to advancements in design knowledge and technology, there are many old buildings and bridges out there, and not all design firms have equal capabilities. If a building’s or bridge’s design is flawed, it will be doomed from the outset. Even if the building or bridge is constructed according to specification, it will still be at risk for collapsing.
  • Negligent Construction – Negligent construction is also a common factor in building and bridge collapses. As building and bridge designs become increasingly sophisticated and rely on new construction methods and materials, the risk of something going wrong during the construction process increases. This plays against the benefits of modern design knowledge and technology we just mentioned. Hiring unskilled trade workers, failing to adequately supervise construction sites, and various other on-site issues can also be responsible for flaws arising during the construction process.
  • Use of Inferior Materials – Architects’ and engineers’ designs rely on the use of specific types and qualities of materials. Unfortunately, construction companies will sometimes substitute inferior materials due to supply issues or in an effort to pad their profits. When a building or bridge is intended to be built with certain materials and inferior materials are used instead, this can compromise the building’s or bridge’s structural integrity and lead to a collapse.
  • Defects in Concrete and Other Materials – Defects in concrete and other construction materials can also lead to collapses. Similar to the use of inferior materials, the use of defective materials presents structural risks that can compromise even a properly-designed and constructed building or bridge.
  • Communication Failures – Large-scale construction projects require constant, clear communication between all parties involved. If a message regarding a building’s or bridge’s design or construction is not communicated clearly or gets lost in translation, this can lead to issues going overlooked until it is too late.
  • Failure to Follow Safety Rules and Regulations – Another common factor in building and bridge collapses is the failure to follow safety rules and regulations. All companies involved in the construction process are subject to safety rules and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. When companies ignore safety risks in order to meet deadlines or protect their bottom lines, the consequences can be devastating for workers and others.
  • Failures During Inspections and Independent Peer Reviews – Inspections and independent peer reviews are intended to uncover design, construction, and material flaws during (and after) the construction process. In many cases, a “passed” inspection or independent peer review will be the last major step before a building is approved for occupancy or a bridge is opened to the public. Inspectors and peer reviewers play a pivotal role in preventing collapses; and, when they fail to do their jobs effectively, they deserve to be held accountable.

These are by no means the only possible causes of building and bridge collapses. In fact, there are many more issues that can lead to catastrophic failures. But, out of all of the potential causes, these are among the most common, and these failures will entitle victims and their families to just compensation in most cases.

Who Is Responsible When a Building or Bridge Collapses?

One of the primary purposes of determining the cause of a building or bridge collapse is to allow for identification of the company (or companies) that are responsible. In order to pursue personal injury and wrongful death claims, collapse victims and their families must be able to point to specific issues that make specific parties liable for their losses.

So, who is responsible when a building or bridge collapses? Depending on the factors involved, companies that may be liable for a building or bridge collapse include (but are not limited to):

  • The architecture firm that designed the building or bridge
  • The engineering firm that consulted on the construction project
  • The construction management company that oversaw the project
  • A contractor or subcontractor that performed substandard work or substituted inferior materials
  • A product manufacturer or supplier that provided defective materials
  • An inspection company or a company that conducted a negligent independent peer review

Here too, these are just examples. When investigating a building or bridge collapse, it is imperative to evaluate all potential claims against all parties involved in the structure’s construction. Oftentimes, multiple companies will share liability; and, in this scenario, recovering just compensation may involve filing claims against multiple parties.

2. Proving Losses Triggered by a Building or Bridge Collapse

Regardless of the company (or companies) that are responsible for a collapse, accident victims and their loved ones are entitled to financial compensation for all of the losses they endure. This includes not only out-of-pocket losses such as medical bills and funeral expenses, but emotional and psychological losses as well.

The process of proving the losses triggered by a building or bridge collapse varies between non-fatal and fatal accident cases. With that said, there are some similarities across the board. Here is an introduction to the primary considerations and steps involved in proving the losses triggered by a building or bridge collapse in Florida:

Medical Costs

In cases involving non-fatal injuries, collapse victims can recover financial compensation for their current and future medical costs. In cases involving fatal injuries, families can recover any medical costs their loved ones incurred prior to death. Proving medical costs incurred through the date of a settlement or verdict is a relatively straightforward process, while proving future medical costs involves understanding collapse victims’ long-term medical needs and forecasting the medical expenses they are likely to incur throughout their lifetime.

Funeral and Burial Costs

Families who lose loved ones in building and bridge collapses are entitled to recover their funeral and burial costs. Similar to medical expenses incurred prior to death, calculating these losses is generally a matter of collecting all relevant documentation and arriving at a final sum.

Other Out-of-Pocket Costs

Other out-of-pocket costs victims and their families may be entitled to recover include costs for transportation, home modifications, and necessary services. This includes services such as home health care, child care, cleaning, and landscaping—among many others. When victims and families will incur these costs well into the future as the result of a bridge collapse, their financial recoveries should include compensation for their costs incurred to date as well as the costs they will be forced to incur in the future.

Loss of Income and Earning Capacity

Building and bridge collapse victims can recover financial compensation for their loss of income resulting from the collapse as well as their loss of future earning capacity. This is true whether their injuries prevent them from working or limit their employment prospects, and it is true whether their injuries impact their ability to earn a living for months, years, or decades. In cases involving fatal collapses, families can recover just compensation for their loved one’s loss of income as well. Recovering these losses requires evidence of income prior to the accident, future employment prospects, and various other factors.

Emotional Trauma

For obvious reasons, living through a building or bridge collapse can cause severe emotional trauma. In addition to compensation for the cost of psychological or psychiatric therapy, collapse victims can also recover compensation for the non-financial toll of their emotional trauma. Eligible family members can recover financial compensation for emotional trauma in appropriate cases as well.

Pain, Suffering, and Other Effects

“Pain and suffering” describes the physical and emotional toll of living with injuries sustained in a traumatic accident. Collapse victims and families can seek compensation for these losses as well, and proving a victim’s pain and suffering involves collecting evidence of all of the various ways the victim’s injuries impact his or her life—and will continue to impact his or her life in the future.

A diary (or “pain journal”), medical records, and testimony from friends and loved ones are just a few examples of the types of evidence our construction accident lawyers can use to prove pain and suffering after a building or bridge collapse. These types of evidence can also be used to prove additional losses including:

  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of services
  • Loss of society
  • Loss of support

Talk to a Construction Accident Lawyer at Silva & Silva

If you need more information about pursuing a claim related to a building or bridge collapse in Florida, we encourage you to contact us promptly. For a free and confidential consultation with a construction accident lawyer at Silva & Silva, call 305-445-0011 or tell us how we can reach you online now.