Contract Security Provider to Pay $517 Million to Settle Charges from Miami Building Collapse
Ninety-eight people were killed and numerous others were thrust into homelessness one year ago when the Champlain Towers South building in Miami, Florida, partially collapsed. The anniversary of the tragic event will mark moments of reflection and remembrance, as well as the finalization of the second-largest class-action lawsuit in the U.S. state’s history.
On Thursday, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman gave final approval to a more than $1 billion settlement ($1,021,199,000) involving more than 24 defendants who were sued on charges of negligence, wrongful death, and personal injury related to the building collapse. One of those defendants was Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., which was the contract security provider for the building and will pay almost half of the total settlement figure: $517.5 million. None of the defendants admitted to wrongdoing as part of the settlement terms, according to The Miami Herald.
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“The standard for approval of this settlement is not whether this is the best possible deal or comparable to a trial verdict, but whether it is fair, reasonable, and adequate,” Hanzman said. “I could not be more proud of this agreement and the people who led this case. I’ve been on the bench for 10 years and handled a number of very difficult cases, and this was one of a kind.”
Champlain Towers South was a 12-story condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida. On 24 June 2021 at 1:15 a.m., the building’s pool deck caved into an underground parking garage. The Securitas guard on duty, Shamoka Furman, was aware of the incident and called 911 immediately; she also reached out to residents individually on their cell phones.
But she did not initiate the alert system that was connected to intercoms in every unit of the building to warn people of the damage or initiate an evacuation. Seven minutes after the pool deck failure, the building collapsed for reasons that are still being investigated. Four people were rescued from the building’s rubble, but 98 others died.
“If I had known about it, I would have pressed it,” Furman said in an interview with The New York Times about the alert system.
Securitas is paying the largest portion of the settlement finalized Thursday. During the discovery portion of the case, depositions revealed that while Securitas security guards were responsible for monitoring visitors at the front desk and operating the building’s alarm system for emergencies, they were not all trained to use the alert system to evacuate residents.
Security Management reached out to Securitas for an interview about the settlement and security officer training. A spokesperson responded with a statement from the company, which included confirmation that Securitas did not install or maintain the building’s safety or security systems, fire alarms, or intercoms.
“Securitas USA’s participation in the settlement does not reflect responsibility for the collapse of the building or the tragic loss of life,” according to the statement. “The legal and insurance claims environment surrounding this matter compelled Securitas USA’s insurers’ participation in the settlement.”
In an interview, Russell Kolins, CEO of Kolins Security Group who specializes in risk management, risk assessment, premise liability, and security inspections, says the “tragic and complicated” case came down to a simple issue: training.
When you are responsible for protecting people, especially in a high-rise residential building, certain safety measures must be in place—including alarm systems, Kolins says. Those measures must work, and security staff must be trained on how to use them so they can be deployed when an incident occurs.
“Training is overseen by supervisors who are responsible for assuring their client that the security officers working at their property have the capability to perform the duties according to the client’s requirements,” Kolins explains. “This means that not only do officers need to pass the initial test of their duties at a specific property, but also have to receive training consistently to test the officers’ knowledge of the property and skills to facilitate the security measures in place designed to save lives. To confirm the validity of the requisite to supervise, train and test, look at settlement in this matter. Securitas paid over half!”
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While the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers building was uncommon, Michael Haggard, managing partner at the Haggard Law Firm who specializes in negligent security, wrongful death, and unsafe premises cases, says that if the security staff on duty had been trained to use the alert system, more people might have evacuated the building before it fell.
“It was almost unthinkable, a building collapsing, but had that security guard been trained and the security system working effectively, it would have saved many, many lives,” Haggard says. “Maybe not all, but it would have saved a lot of people.”
Next Steps for Practitioners and Building Owners
For property managers that have been watching the legal case unfold, Kolins says that conducting a risk assessment of their buildings, condos, apartment buildings, and office facilities should be a top priority to determine security measures in place and potential gaps. This should also include analyzing the contract between the property manager and any security guard agency to review training requirements, especially for individual guards assigned to a property.
“We want to make sure that every security measure in place has been noticed by the security guard agency, and that the guards have been trained to operate and engage those security measures,” Kolins says. “In this case, had we done a risk assessment at Champlain Towers…we would have evaluated each and every security measure that was in place. We would have taken a look at the training that the guards had, and made sure the guards had the training and ability to activate those emergency procedures.”
If that training has not occurred, Kolins says he recommends it be done immediately.
Haggard also recommends an additional focus on training for security personnel—not just to observe and report suspicious activity but also to respond to other issues like weather events and building damage.
Property managers should also assess if they need to update their security tools and systems, such as implementing a buildingwide alarm system to alert residents of an issue and whether to shelter in place or evacuate the facility.
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“With the increase of mass shootings and, depending on where you are in the country, weather events, this opens a lot of issues where a systemwide or buildingwide alarm system or communication system is probably under the standard of care,” Haggard says.
The same approach could also be applied to facilities where large groups of people tend to gather, including schools and shopping malls, where a mass notification system would be essential to notify individuals of a security incident.
Security practitioners should apply the findings of the Champlain Towers case in other ways because “a collapse of a building is a rare occurrence,” Haggard adds. “I hope we’ll look at it as a reminder to double-check our systems are in place to handle a buildingwide emergency event.”