Florida’s Surfside collapse tragedy shook us all last year, but lawyer Rachel Furst (she/her) was responsible for getting justice for those most affected as a partner at the firm Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, where she was co-lead counsel for the victims’ $1B class-action suit.

Here she shares her experience working on such a high-profile case, how she deals with emotionally taxing work days, and what to know if we ever end up in court.

Where were you when the Surfside building collapsed?
I was on a plane heading to New York to take my 8-year-old to summer camp. The news came across my phone and my heart sank. I immediately thought of my friends who live in Surfside. People think of Miami as a big city, but it’s more of a small town in many ways. I don’t know anyone who didn’t have some connection to somebody in that building.

How did you get assigned to the case?
My firm handles all sorts of catastrophic loss cases and represents victims of mass torts—which sounds like a cake, but it just means when someone’s injured or dies as a result of someone else’s negligence. My firm also represents the parents of the children who died in the Parkland School shooting. So, clients call us because of our reputation for handling these types of cases.

These types of cases sound emotionally draining. How have you learned to not take that home with you?
It’s a challenge, and I don’t think it’s possible to leave this kind of work at the office. I see danger in so many aspects of life that other people enjoy thoughtlessly. Like, when I take my kids to an amusement park, I’m thinking of all the ways in which the ride could malfunction, which you have to put aside to try and enjoy life. But the Surfside collapse was a first in my career because so many people died so suddenly, and no one had a chance to say goodbye.

Was it difficult to find a legal basis for your clients to get restitution?
This case presented an enormous challenge. There’s a statute of limitations, and since this building was 40 years old, we couldn’t bring claims against anyone involved in the original construction. So we hired geotechnical experts and engineering experts to analyze what could have happened. There had been a luxury condo project built in the last 4 years, and over the course of several months, we developed a theory that the vibrations from [that new construction] destabilized the Champlain Towers building and hastened its collapse. We also discovered that there was negligence in the way the security guard had been trained. There was a button within arm’s reach that she could have pressed to sound an alarm and give people a chance to escape, but that didn’t happen because she wasn’t trained to do it.

These are just examples of cases or claims that really were not apparent at the outset of the case and took many months to unearth. I see people say [about cases], “Well, maybe we’ll never know what happened here.” And maybe you don’t get to 100% accuracy, but when you start digging and looking at the evidence, you find out what could have been done differently to save lives.

If we are ever part of a class-action suit, what should we know ahead of time?
If you think something’s unfair in your dealings with a company or a corporation, then you should absolutely reach out to an attorney. The tip I would give is that your legal remedies are in the fine print. Oftentimes people come to me saying, “Look at what this company has done to me. How could this be possible?” Then when we look back at the contract they signed or the app they downloaded, it’s spelled out right there.