Judge approves $1B+ settlement in deadly Florida condo collapse

MIAMI (AP) — A judge gave final approval Thursday to a more than $1 billion settlement for victims of a Florida beachfront condominium building collapse that killed 98 people, one of the failures of deadliest construction sites in US history.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman’s decision came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in the Miami suburb of Surfside. The judge praised the dozens of attorneys involved for avoiding what could have been years of litigation with no certain outcome.

“It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss they have suffered,” the judge said. “This deal is the best we can do. It is a remarkable result. It’s extraordinary.

Most of the $1.02 billion total will go to people who lost family members in the 12-story building collapse. About $100 million is earmarked for legal fees and $96 million for owners who lost one of the building’s 136 units.

No victim objected to the settlement or opted out, court-appointed trustee Michael Goldberg said. Several people who lost family members or property said in court Thursday that they are grateful for such a quick conclusion to a horrific experience.

Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-floor unit that was initially left intact, had nothing but praise for the outcome.

“You have no idea what a relief this is for me personally,” Rodriguez said. “I’m so tired. I just want this done. I want these souls to rest.”

The ruling came during what is called a fairness hearing, in which anyone who has objections to the settlement can raise them while the judge determines whether the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate,” according to court documents.

The money comes from various sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to the structural damage to Champlain Towers South. Neither party admits wrongdoing.

A billionaire developer from Dubai is set to buy the 1.8-acre (1-hectare) beachside site for $120 million, which will contribute to the deal.

Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include rising sea levels caused by climate change and damage caused by saltwater intrusion.

A final conclusion on the cause is likely to be years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal investigation into the collapse, recently said that invasive tests on material samples from the collapse site will begin soon.

The tests will help researchers find potential flaws in the building’s structural elements by looking at things like the density of the materials, how porous they were and whether there was corrosion, NIST said.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums over three stories tall under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month in response to the disaster.

The death toll in the Champlain Towers collapse is among the highest in US history among similar disasters. The 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse killed 114 people and the 1860 Massachusetts factory disaster killed between 88 and 145 workers.

___

Anderson contributed to this story from St. Petersburg, Florida.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.

Leave a Comment