Daily Business Review: Implosion or Not? Lawsuits likely over Miami Beach building collapse

Posted on July 24, 2018

The building collapse injured a 42-year-old project manager with a demolition company.

By Lidia Dinkova | July 24, 2018 at 10:55 AM

A building collapse in Miami Beach that left one victim in critical condition could give rise to lawsuits against the general contractor, subcontractor and possibly the developer, attorneys said.

The vacant Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Ave. was built in the early 1960s and was being demolished to make way for a high-end, Arquitectonica-designed condominium. When the 13-story building collapsed just after 10 a.m. Monday, chunks of concrete scattered halfway across the street, and amateur video showed paramedics trying to resuscitate someone in the median.

Based on news reports, Etan Mark, a partner at Mark Migdal & Hayden in Miami, said, “This is an … egregious example of what appears to be negligence. We’ll see how it shakes out.” Looking ahead, he said, “I am sure there will be a lot of lawyers involved. That I can guarantee you.”

Samuel Landis, 42, was injured and listed in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the city reported. Landis is a project manager with the Fort Lauderdale company hired for the demolition, AlliedBean Demolition Inc., according to general contractor Winmar Construction Inc.

Developer Multiplan Real Estate Asset Management, founded by Jose Isaac Peres of Brazil’s publicly traded real estate company Multiplan, wants to build a 17-story, 89-unit condominium.

Now fingers could be pointed at Winmar, AlliedBean and possibly Multiplan, attorneys said.

“Ultimately in these types of cases liability falls to general contractors. That is general contractors have a responsibility to oversee the methods that subcontractors are using in connection with the renovation, or in this case demolition,” Mark said. “If there was negligence by the subcontractor, and we don’t know that yet, then certainly the general contractor has some potential exposure.”

Jason Kellogg, a partner at Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman in Miami, speculated about what happened.

“The question becomes did the demolition contractor do something wrong either in its calculations in how to take the building apart,” he said. “Or maybe there was an accident where a backhoe hit the side of the building, and that sometimes can knock it down. I saw someone was injured so that clearly has got the potential for a lawsuit against the demolition contractor and the developer.”

Landis might be limited in his legal claims and damages as an employee of the subcontractor.

“In Florida, assuming it was a construction worker employed by one of the contractors and assuming there was workers’ compensation insurance, normally you cannot sue your employer for negligence. Typically, employees are restricted,” Steven Marks, managing partner at Podhurst Orseck in Miami, said, noting the same applies to a project manager.

But under those circumstances, Landis would get automatic liability coverage from his employer.

“There’s a benefit and there’s a cost,” marks said. “You get automatic liability, but you get a limitation of damages.”

Aside from Landis, others that might have claims are the developer and project investors, if there are any.

“That project likely now faces a significant delay,” Mark said. “I would expect that the entity that has invested in this site may have claims against what appears to be potentially a negligent subcontractor or general contractor.”

Nearby condo associations also might have legal claims, Kellogg added.

Multiplan and Winmar issued statements Monday.

“We are monitoring the situation, and our hearts and prayers are with the injured construction worker and his family,” Marcelo Kingston, Multiplan managing director, said in an email.

Winmar’s South Florida office is listed on its website as an affiliate of the Murphy family’s Coastal Construction Group of South Florida Inc. Company president Luis Leon also offered prayers for Landis and his family.

“Safety remains the top priority for Winmar on all of its projects, and we adhere to all safety protocols to ensure every precaution is taken. We are working closely with city officials and industry agencies to understand what happened during Allied’s demolition of the structure,” Leon said in an email.

While Multiplan directed questions to Winmar, Winmar directed inquiries to Allied. An Allied representative declined comment Tuesday.

Even though a permit for an instant implosion was sought from the city, a permit for a conventional demolition was approved, according to city records.

Kellogg said a video posted online calls the nature of the work into question. In this video, one of many to surface after the collapse, bystanders are ready with their iPhone cameras.

“There’s so many people standing around videoing it, which leads me to believe that it had been prepped. It was ready to be demolished. You can see the firefighters are everywhere, and it just fell wrong. It was supposed to fall on itself, but it didn’t,” he said. “What I saw was an implosion and a bunch of people standing around filming it because they knew it was about to go down.”

The city issued no implosion permit, Miami Beach communications director Tonya Daniels said.

Miami Beach, Miami and Miami-Dade County fire departments found no more victims after a search. Miami Beach police are leading a criminal investigation.