A nearly $1bn tentative settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit brought by families of victims and survivors of last June’s condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, an attorney said Wednesday.
Harley S Tropin announced the $997m settlement during a hearing before Miami-Dade circuit court judge Michael Hanzman. Still pending final approval, the settlement involves insurance companies, developers of an adjacent building and other defendants.
“I’m shocked by this result. I think it’s fantastic,” Hanzman said. “This is a recovery that is far in excess of what I had anticipated.”
Earlier this year, Hanzman had approved an $83m settlement to compensate people who suffered economic losses such as condominium units and personal property. A key question from the beginning has been how to allocate money from the property’s sale, insurance proceeds and damages from lawsuits among wrongful death cases and property claims.
The 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium collapsed abruptly in the early-morning hours of 24 June, almost instantly destroying dozens of individual condo units and burying victims under tons of rubble. Rescuers spent weeks carefully digging through mountains of concrete, first to find survivors and later to recover the remains of those who died. A total of 98 people were killed.
The main lawsuit, filed on behalf of Champlain Towers South victims and family members, contends that work on the adjacent Eighty Seven Park tower damaged and destabilized the Champlain Towers building, which was in dire need of structural repair. Champlain Towers was in the midst of its 40-year structural review when it partially crumbled to the ground.
Video released by a team of federal investigators showed evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement in the building.
The collapse triggered lawsuits from victims, families and condo owners, and prompted state and federal investigations. In December, a Florida grand jury issued a lengthy list of recommendations aimed at preventing another condominium collapse, including earlier and more frequent inspections and better waterproofing. And in February of this year, the Florida House unanimously passed a bill that would require statewide recertification of any condo building above three stories high. The bill would require recertification after 30 years, or 25 years if the building is within 3 miles of the coast, and every 10 years thereafter.
At the time of the collapse, Miami-Dade and Broward were the only two of the state’s 67 counties that had condominium recertification programs.
Champlain Towers was located in Surfside, a town just north of Miami Beach. The little-known enclave comprises a mix of older homes and condos similar to the collapsed tower, built decades ago for the middle-class, and recently erected luxury condos drawing the wealthy. That includes former first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who live about a block north of the collapsed condo.