A judge on Thursday approved a $1.02 billion settlement for victims and survivors of the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the disaster that killed 98 at midnight .
The move by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Heinzmann, who oversaw the civil proceedings resulting from the Champlain Towers South collapse in the early hours of June 24, 2021, lays out the financial and liability aspects of the tragedy.
Heinzmann called it remarkable, praising the lawyers involved for shortening the decade-long litigation process.
When the settlement was reached last month, Heinzmann said the amount marked a “recovery that is much higher than I anticipated”.
The judge formally approved the settlement on Thursday, saying “it will never be enough to make up for the tragic loss caused to them.” “This agreement is the best we can do. It’s a remarkable result. It’s extraordinary.”
Most of the money will go to the family members of those who died when the 12-storey building collapsed at 1:22 am. It would cost about $100 million in legal fees, and owners who lost one of the building’s 136 units would split $96 million.
While just one part of the building collapsed, the rest was deemed unstable and was demolished in July last year due to the closure of Hurricane Elsa.
Heinzmann ruled during a “fairness hearing” during which people can raise objections while he is determining whether the settlement is “fair, fair and adequate.”
From those present at the hearing, from survivors to family members to those who had lost condos, they had nothing but praise for the settlement and expediency.
“The heroes in this courtroom wear black robes and business suits,” Eileen Rosenberg, whose daughter died, said in the proceedings. “Your honor and every member of this court, you are all angels in disguise.”
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“None of us are legal experts, but everything was always explained so that we could understand it,” said condo owner Yadira Santos, who lost everything except his life in the disaster. “Lawyers were always available, day and night.”
The settlement is funded from 37 sources, a mix including insurance companies, engineering firms, condo associations and a next-door luxury condominium whose construction may have contributed to structural damage in the affected high-rise. Neither of those parties admits to any wrongdoing.
The settlement pot contributed $120 million in proceeds from the sale of the 2-acre seaside property to the billionaire Dubai developer.
Heinzmann said arbitration would begin on who would receive what amount of cash from July 25, and the process of determining the value of claims for the 98 killed and other injured should be completed by August 26. Those who have filed claims by the July 18 deadline will have the right to a private hearing before a judge.
For the time being, the settlement approval provided much-needed closure.
“You don’t know how much of a relief it is for me personally,” said Raisa Rodriguez, who survived a fall in a ninth-floor unit that was initially intact. “I’m so tired. All I want is this done. I want these souls to rest.”
news with wire services