What Causes Buildings to Collapse?
Table of Contents
Top 6 Reasons a Building May Collapse
The recent collapse of the Surfside Champlain South Tower condo building has gripped the nation. The tragic scenes and number of lives affected make it one of the most devastating building collapses in the U.S. since 9/11.
It is still unknown what caused the south tower to partially collapse in the early morning of June 24, and it may take months or even years to know the exact cause for the building failure. However, buildings rarely fail without any reason. Below, we have compiled the most common causes of structural damage.
1) Weak Foundation
Strong foundations are essential for the overall structural integrity of a building, but especially so in a coastal area like Miami. Rising sea levels and coastal flooding combined with soil subsidence (the sudden or gradual sinking of land) have caused buildings to gradually sink.
In a study conducted in 2020, it was noted that the Champlain South Tower had been sinking since the 1990s. It is still unclear whether or not this played any role in the building collapse.
In 2018, a structural field study found that the building was suffering from “major structural damage” caused by waterproofing failures below the pool deck and entrance drive. Cracks had developed in the parking garage, and there was often water found on the garage floor, regardless of the weather. The report recommended that entire slabs of damaged concrete be replaced.
Despite the concerns raised in the report three years ago, the condo association failed to act to immediately address the damage and even told residents that the building was safe.
2) Faulty Construction
Contractors that work hastily to save time may make errors that affect the strength and integrity of the structure. Similarly, if a company hires workers that are not fully qualified or trained, they may make serious mistakes that may affect the building’s safety.
Construction errors that may have tragic consequences include:
- Failure to properly waterproof and drain water away from the foundation
- Improperly installed roofing materials, resulting in moisture intrusion
- Improperly installed windows, resulting in moisture intrusion
- Failure to insulate pipes, resulting in condensation buildup that can damage nearby materials
- Selecting the wrong materials for the job. The same materials that are used in a building that is inland may not be appropriate for construction in a coastal area where corrosion and erosion are constant concerns
3) Failure to Perform Strength Tests
Strength tests should be conducted throughout a building’s construction. This includes load testing which helps assess how much weight a structure can safely support without causing cracks or other forms of damage.
The concrete used should also be tested to ensure it can properly support the weight of the structure. Concrete can be tested using a rebound hammer. When struck by the hammer, the strength of the rebound can help determine how much energy the concrete is absorbing.
Other forms of concrete testing include penetration testing which measures strength based on how easily a foreign object can penetrate its surface. Ultrasonic pulse velocity can be used to detect cracks and other forms of damage in concrete.
4) Poor Quality Building Materials
Materials that are low quality can affect the structural integrity of the building, causing it to collapse.
Examples of weak and poor quality materials that may affect the structural integrity of a building include:
- Concrete blocks
- Insulation and waterproofing
The location of construction may affect the materials used. If a construction company uses materials that are prone to corrosion in coastal areas, like bare carbon steel, the building may be more susceptible to collapse.
Corrosion is a particular problem in any coastal area, like Miami-Dade County. The salt and chloride levels in floodwater can cause materials to corrode and weaken. Over time, this may affect the structural integrity of the building.
A building should be constructed with corrosion-resistant metals—including stainless steel—or with metals that have been specially treated and coated to be corrosion-resistant. Buildings should also be regularly reviewed for signs of corrosion.
If left untreated, corrosion can weaken cross beam reinforcements and may lead to structural failure.
6) Natural Disasters
Storms and natural disasters are an inevitability, and buildings should be constructed with reasonable protections to withstand high winds, flooding, and more.
Newly constructed homes and buildings in South Florida must meet additional building codes to withstand hurricane-strength winds, including installing impact windows and doors. Buildings along the coast must also be elevated to protect against flooding.
While we cannot control Mother Nature, contractors, property owners, and condo associations are expected to take reasonable measures to protect buildings against potential damage and failure.
Injured in a Building Collapse? The Ferraro Law Firm Can Fight For You
If you or a loved one were injured, lost their life, or suffered property damage as a result of a partial or total building collapse, you may be entitled to compensation. The Ferraro Law Firm has the resources and skill necessary to investigate a building collapse and determine who may be at fault for your losses. We have obtained billions of dollars in compensation for our clients, and we have received victories against some of the largest corporations and insurance companies in the nation.
Contact us today to schedule your free legal consultation. It costs nothing unless we recover compensation for you.
Building Collapse FAQs
Who is liable for a building collapse?
Condo associations, property owners, construction companies, and contractors may all be held liable for a building collapse if their negligence contributed to the structure’s failure. Negligence may involve faulty construction, failure to repair structural damage in a timely fashion, failure to conduct regular inspections and maintenance, and more.
If I lost a loved one in a building collapse, can I file a lawsuit?
Yes, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit if you lost a loved one in a building collapse. While a lawsuit cannot bring back your loved one, it may recover compensation for funeral expenses, loss of support, past medical expenses, and more.
Why did the Surfside Champlain South Tower condos collapse?
The cause of the building collapse is still undetermined. However, a study in 2018 reported that the building was suffering “major structural damage,” including failed weatherproofing and cracks in the concrete. Despite these findings, the condo association failed to make repairs or warn residents of the damage.