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Resident files class-action lawsuit after Florida condo collapse

The purpose of the suit, filed in Miami-Dade County just before 11:30 p.m. Thursday, is to "compensate the victims of this unfathomable loss," according to the filing.
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A resident of Champlain Towers South, the Florida high-rise condo building that partially collapsed, filed a class-action lawsuit less than 24 hours after nearly half the building was reduced to rubble.

The suit, filed by Manuel Drezner in Miami-Dade County just before 11:30 p.m. Thursday, said its purpose is to "compensate the victims of this unfathomable loss."

Part of the 12-story building in Surfside, near Miami Beach, collapsed about 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Of the building's 136 units, 55 in the northeast corridor were gone in a matter of seconds.

As of Friday morning, four people were dead and 11 had been hurt, officials said.

A staggering 159 people were unaccounted for, while 120 people from the building were accounted for, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Friday morning.

The suit said Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc. "failed to adequately secure the building, placing the lives and property of its occupants and visitors ... at risk resulting in the collapse of the building."

"At all relevant times, defendant was aware, or reasonably should have been aware that the plaintiff's and the class's lives and property were at risk due to the lack of precautions taken at Champlain Towers South," according to the suit.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the collapse. The lawsuit said the defendants reserve the right to amend the filing as more information and potential victims become known.

An agreement attached to the suit between Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc. and condominium owners said "the association shall maintain, repair and replace at the association's own expense ... all portions of the units ... contributing to the support of the building, which portions should include but not limited to, the outside of the building and load bearing columns."

The suit said the agreement was clearly breached by Champlain Towers South Condominium Association Inc.

The suit also quotes Kenneth Direktor, an attorney for Becker, a law firm that has worked for the building since 1993, saying Thursday that “repair needs had been identified" at the building.

Direktor did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment, but Donna Berger, another attorney with Becker Lawyers, told NBC News that it was "disappointing" for a lawsuit "to be the focus right now of any owner in Champlain Towers South, when almost 100 of their neighbors are still unaccounted for.”

About 70 percent of the building was occupied at the time of the collapse, Berger said.

“I feel as a culture we’ve become so accustomed from moving from one tragic event to another, and there’s often a rush to judgment," she said. "This was a community that was functioning well and doing the right things and just struck with a freak tragedy."

Berger added that Champlain Towers South Condominium board member Nancy Levin, who served as vice president, was among the group of people unaccounted for.

"How in the span of less than a day could an attorney file a lawsuit alleging anything? Every expert on the site doesn’t know what happened, yet some attorney has decided that he has figured this all out," Berger added. "Certainly, if there’s culpable parties, they should be held accountable, but first and foremost our focus is on the search and rescue efforts."

She said engineers would look at whether construction of a high-rise next door "played any sort of role in destabilizing the building."

Berger said the building had recently hired an engineer to undergo a 40-year recertification process, as is required under Miami-Dade County building code. Champlain Towers South was built in 1981.

Any property in the county that was built four decades or longer ago is required to complete the inspection process within a few years of that anniversary to certify “each building or structure is structurally and electrically safe for the specified use for continued occupancy,” according to the county’s notice sent to property owners.

Champlain Towers South was undergoing a roof replacement to be in compliance with the report, Berger said.

Public records did not show many issues regarding the building beyond two lawsuits over alleged cracks in a unit’s exterior wall.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told reporters that he often jogged by the building. He said he knew it had undergone some minor construction and roof work that included a recent crane, but he noted that many buildings undergo similar maintenance.

Champlain Towers South is across from a beach in the oceanfront community of about 6,000 people.

Photos showed people on Thursday gawking from the beach at the pile of rubble below dozens of condos seemingly sliced in half and exposed to the open air.