Judge backs $1 billion US settlement for deadly Florida condo collapse

A Florida judge on Saturday gave initial approval to a more than US$1 billion settlement to families who lost loved ones in last year’s collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium. in which 98 people, including four Canadians, died.

The rapid settlement following the unprecedented collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South building in the early morning hours of June 24, 2021 means that potential years of legal battles will be averted.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing lawsuits after the collapse, told a remote hearing it was the best possible outcome given the loss of life and in property in the disaster.

“It’s a great result,” Hanzman said before giving preliminary approval to the deal, which was announced on Friday. “It was a highly contested deal.”

“It was heavily negotiated”

Rachel Furst, co-chair of the group of attorneys representing victims’ families, said the settlement also means defendants — insurance companies, developers, the town of Surfside and others — will have a ” total peace” that they will no longer be prosecuted. Still, some people may decide to opt out of the agreement and pursue their own independent claims.

“It was heavily negotiated,” Furst said. “We believe this is an exceptional settlement.”

WATCH | A Canadian identified among the victims of the collapse of a condo in Florida:

Canadian named among victims of Florida condo collapse

A Canadian has been identified as one of the victims of a condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. She had seven children and had recently celebrated the birth of a grandchild. Three Canadians are still among the missing after the collapse.

Under the agreement, those directly involved in the settlement will have until June 16 to file notice that they intend to opt out. A week later, on June 23, Hanzman will have an equity hearing to allow anyone objecting to the settlement to be heard.

Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed attorney and receiver handling the case for the judge, said notice would be sent to all family members of those who died. It will be posted on the Champlain Towers South website and published in the Miami Herald.

“We’ll start immediately,” Goldberg said.

The total for families who lost loved ones in the collapse is approximately US$1.02 billion. Separately, people whose condos were destroyed and lost property, such as furniture and memorabilia, will split an estimated US$96 million.

US President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, visit a memorial for the victims of the building collapse July 1, 2021 in Surfside. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The families of the victims will have to file claims, as the money will not be distributed equally. The goal is to start distributing money by September.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering companies and a recently built luxury condominium next door. Neither party admits to wrongdoing. A billionaire Dubai developer is set to buy the one-hectare (1.8-acre) beachfront site for US$120 million, helping with the settlement.

Only three survivors were found despite the round-the-clock efforts of rescuers, who dug through a 12-metre-high pile of rubble over two weeks. Three dozen more people were able to escape from the part of the building that remained standing. All 135 units were eventually torn down, leaving a gaping hole along the Surfside waterfront.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process that is expected to take years. Champlain 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.