Lawyers for the families who lost loved ones in last year’s collapse of a Florida condo tower that killed 98 people reached a $1.02 billion settlement on Friday, offering a speedy resolution to the lawsuits that could have dragged on for years.
The deal to end litigation over the Champlain South Towers tragedy is awaiting approval from circuit judge Michael Hanzman, but that should be just a formality.
Lawyers previously announced in court a tentative agreement that nearly $1 billion would be shared by families whose loved ones died or were injured in the collapse of the 12-story tower in Surfside, and the Parties on both sides of the lawsuit filed a motion Friday committing to a $1.02 billion settlement fund. Additionally, nearly $100 million will be shared by those who lost their property in the collapse.
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 1.8-acre beachfront site for $120 million, helping with the settlement.
The judge will determine lawyers’ fees, but it is expected to be only a fraction of a third that lawyers would normally earn. Cases like this typically take three years or more to reach a settlement, let alone a trial.
In their motion for “preliminary approval of a class action settlement,” plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys described the Surfside collapse as a “black swan event that devastated this community” and said they were “proud to have taken up the challenge of this Court to bring relief to the class of victims before the first anniversary of the collapse.
Most of the Champlain South Towers collapsed suddenly around 1:20 a.m. on June 24 while most of its residents were asleep. Only three people survived the initial collapse.
No other survivors were found despite the round-the-clock efforts of rescuers who dug through a 40-foot-tall pile of rubble for 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 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.
The collapse has drawn new scrutiny on the safety of skyscrapers across the state, especially in vulnerable coastal areas. At the time, Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward counties were the only ones of Florida’s 67 counties to require buildings to recertify their safety after 40 years.
New legislation passed by the Legislature this week in a special session and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis will require such certifications statewide, much earlier in the building’s lifespan.
Recertification will be required after 30 years, or 25 years if the vessel is within 3 miles of the coast, and every 10 years thereafter. The Champlain Towers South was 40 years old and its condominium corporation was struggling to comply at the time of the collapse.
New York Post