Jury selection begins in Florida condo building collapse case

Victims, who contend their injuries were caused by building construction defects, have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking a jury trial, ranging in damages from $500,000 to more than $30m

Members of a jury pool began screening in an early-morning hearing Friday to determine whether a jury trial will be held for the families of the two dozen people killed and scores of people injured when a small Florida condo building collapsed in 2016.

Sixteen relatives of those killed and 28 of those who were hurt attended the hearing at the Plantation courthouse in Broward County, some holding pictures of their loved ones.

Eight of the injured were still hospitalized in the days after the February 2016 collapse. Some of the injured had multiple surgeries or, in the case of one student student, had brain surgeries.

The hearing began with some answers to the questions jury pools were asked about their familiarity with the case. Some families said they knew the names and photographs of victims, while others said they knew nothing about the case. It was unclear how those answers would factor into the panelists’ decisions about whether they would be OK sitting on a jury in the case.

Some jurors had specific memories of the collapse. Some jurors had seen news coverage on television, but others said they had only heard about the collapse or had read accounts in a newspaper or online. But they said they were familiar with the topic.

“They’re victims’ families, and they deserve justice,” said one woman serving on the jury.

Lawyers for the victims, who contend their injuries were caused by construction defects, have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking a jury trial, ranging in damages from $500,000 to more than $30m.

Construction of the building, intended to house 49 condo units, had been under way for about a year when the building came down. Work had included installing additional floors and removing damaged walls and other flooring.

The condo building’s developer, Lawrence Kelman, had previously been charged with a safety violation for not reporting similar violations elsewhere and with failing to keep inspections records. He was charged in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in March 2010, but the case was withdrawn in October 2011 because it was deemed unwinnable.

A spokesman for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office did not return requests for comment, and the firm that represented Kelman in the Palm Beach County case did not return requests for comment.

Kelman’s company, Cyrus Construction Co, is still building condos on a separate site in Margate, but a spokeswoman did not immediately return messages left at the company’s offices.

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