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Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman’s decision came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in Surfside, a suburb of Miami. The judge commended the dozens of lawyers involved for averting what could have been years of litigation with no certain outcome for the victims.
“It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss they have suffered,” the judge said. “This agreement is the best we can achieve. It’s a remarkable result. It’s extraordinary.”
The deal will set up a $1.02 billion fund for people who lost family members in the collapse of the 12-story building, as well as those who sustained physical or mental injuries. Lawyers said another $200 million was available from the Champlain Towers housing association itself, including insurance.
About $100 million is earmarked for legal fees — that number will be finalized in September — and $96 million for owners who lost one of the 136 units in the building, based on the estimated value of each one. They range from more expensive four-bedroom ocean-view units to lower-value one-bedroom ones.
The process to determine the value of the claims for the 98 deaths and any injuries will be completed by Aug. 26, Hanzman said. Anyone who has filed a lawsuit by July 18 has the right, but is not required, to a private hearing before a judge.
The question will be how much a life or an injury is worth. Claims for damages in the event of loss of life typically involve multiple factors and could include, for example, the lifelong earning potential of the deceased.
“My goal really is to make it as painless as possible,” Hanzman said.
No victim appealed the settlement or chose to opt out, said court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg. Several people who lost family members or property said in court on Thursday that they were grateful for a horrific experience coming to an end so quickly.
Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-story unit that initially remained intact, had nothing but praise for the result.
“You have no idea what a relief that is for me personally,” Rodriguez said. “I am so exhausted. I just want this to be done. I want these souls to rest.”
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The ruling came during a so-called fairness hearing, where anyone who had objections to the deal could raise them while the judge determined whether the settlement was “fair, reasonable and reasonable,” according to court documents.
The money came from 37 different sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condo whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to the structural damage to the Champlain Towers South. Neither party admits any wrongdoing.
A multi-billion dollar developer from Dubai will buy the 1.8 hectare beachfront property for US$120 million, contributing to the settlement. This transaction is expected to be completed by the end of July.
People could start getting checks for their losses starting in September, the judge said.
Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance issues and questions were raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise from climate change and damage from saltwater intrusion.
A definitive conclusion on the cause is likely years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal investigation into the collapse, recently said invasive testing of material samples from the collapse site will begin soon.
The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in the building’s structural elements by examining things like the density of the materials, how porous they were and whether there was corrosion, NIST said.
Florida will require a statewide recertification of condos taller than three stories under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month in response to the disaster.
The death toll from the collapse of the Champlain Towers is among the highest in US history among similar disasters. The 1981 Hyatt Regency collapse killed 114 people, and a Massachusetts factory disaster in 1860 killed between 88 and 145 workers.
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https://abc13.com/condo-collapse-settlement-surfside-florida-champlain-towers-miami/11990771/ The judge approves a $1 billion deal in a class action lawsuit over the collapse of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida