Insurers for Law Firm, Engineers in Collapsed Condo Settle with Victims’ Families

By Insurance Journal staff | February 25, 2022

Insurers for an engineering firm overseeing major repairs at the collapsed Surfside condominium and for a law firm that advised the condo association have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by survivors and families of the tragedy that killed 98 people last summer.

The Becker law firm, widely known for its work to help condo associations oppose condo law reform efforts, and Morabito Consulting, an engineering firm that performed a structural analysis on the Champlain Towers South, will pay an undisclosed amount, the Miami Herald reported.

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Attorneys for the families credited a mediator and lawyers for the insurance companies with working out the settlement.

Families and survivors of the June 24 collapse had charged that Morabito, while citing major repairs needed in a 2018 report, failed to warn residents about imminent danger. The repairs, postponed by the condo association, were estimated to cost $15 million, and had just begun when part of the high-rise building crumbled, according to news reports.

Morabito officials denied that the Maryland-based firm was responsible for the collapse of the 12-story, building, saying its work was “consistent with the highest industry standards.”

“But we also firmly believe that the families who have suffered from this tragedy deserve compensation so that they may focus on healing,” the firm said, according to the Herald. “We therefore applaud the settlement reached by our insurers to resolve these difficult issues fairly and expeditiously.”

Morabito’s insurance companies, National Fire Insurance Co. of Hartford and Continental Casualty Co., initially refused to pay on the engineering firm’s policies, arguing that the losses were caused by the engineers’ negligence. Morabito sued the carriers.

pastedGraphic_1.pngAn insurer for the Becker law firm’s $10 million professional liability policy, Allied World Surplus Lines, also balked at paying out. Allied earlier this month asked a federal court to clear it of any coverage responsibility. The insurer argued that a policy exclusion bars coverage for law firm actions that result in bodily injury or destruction of property.

By this week, though, the differences appeared to have been resolved.

“We are pleased that this matter is coming to a close and that our insurance carriers decided to resolve the case in a manner that we hope will help bring closure to the victims and their families of this terrible tragedy,” the Becker firm said in a statement. “We are in the process of finalizing the settlement details, which is expected to take several weeks.”

The Fort Lauderdale law firm, formerly known as Becker & Poliakoff, helped write parts of Florida’s statutes that have empowered associations and, critics charge, have allowed building owners to avoid making badly needed repairs through the years. While Becker had represented the Champlain Towers association, it also “had a responsibility and duty to warn about the imminent nature of the damage and the extreme risk to the residents and occupants of CTS (the towers) posed by the structural damage,” according to the lawsuit, the Herald reported.

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