Surfside building collapse: Giant settlement to lawsuit revealed

Miami, Florida - In a surprisingly quick end to the Champlain Towers South class-action lawsuit, relatives of victims and survivors of the Surfside condo collapse in Florida last year have reached a settlement that will pay them nearly $1 billion, a state court judge was told Wednesday.

The remains of the Champlain Towers South being demolished.
The remains of the Champlain Towers South being demolished.  © Giorgio VIERA / AFP

The comprehensive settlement announced in Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman’s courtroom effectively closes the litigation phase of the case. Still to be decided is the share survivors and family members of the 98 victims will receive.

"We have gotten $997 million in proposed settlements before you – and it could be a billion before the end of the week," said Harley S. Tropin, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. "We will be done. The money will be distributed. These victims will get some measure of relief."

Hanzman, who had warned that a trial could not take place until next year, hoped to have the case resolved before the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the 136-unit oceanfront building in Surfside that fell at 1:22 AM on June 24, 2021.

"The result achieved and the speed is beyond extraordinary," Hanzman said. "When this case first came in this court I told everyone this wouldn’t be business as usual. This was a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. If we didn’t have the right people handling this case it would be a 10-year slog with tens of millions in attorneys’ fees."

Littany of firms to pay out in Surfside lawsuit

Distraught people mourning near the impromptu shrine to the victims of the tower collaps
Distraught people mourning near the impromptu shrine to the victims of the tower collaps  © Chandan Khanna / AFP

Plaintiffs settled with 10 defendants, including developers of the condominium next door, engineers, a law firm, the Champlain South condo association and their insurers.

They include 8701 Collins Development, Terra Group, Terra World Investments, John Moriarty and Associations of Florida, NV5, DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Morabito Consultants, the town of Surfside, Becker and Poliakoff, and Champlain Towers South Condominium Association.

The last major defendants to settle were the developer, Terra Group, and general contractor, John Moriarty and Associates. They were accused in the litigation of destabilizing Champlain South during construction in 2016 when metal sheet piles were driven into the ground about 12 feet from the Surfside condo’s perimeter wall around the pool deck.

They will pay an undisclosed sum to the plaintiffs without admitting any negligence. Champlain South residents claimed the vibrations that rattled their building – knocking pictures off their walls and throwing one off a treadmill – played a role in the collapse. Five years later, the pool deck at Champlain South broke away from the structural wall near where the pile-driving occurred. Seven minutes after the deck caved in, half of the 12-story tower collapsed, killing 98 people inside.

The Eighty Seven Park firms deny their work had anything to do with the collapse in 2021. They said the vibrations, which were measured and monitored, were too low to have caused "structural damage to any portion of Champlain Towers South."

Surfside victims to receive funds by the fall

The cleared lot where the Champlain Towers South building stood.
The cleared lot where the Champlain Towers South building stood.  © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Hanzman said he wants to finalize the settlement agreement before the June 24 anniversary and distribute funds by the fall.

"The defendants faced a lot of exposure, whether they were liable or not," he said. "We’ve taken a black swan case that we hope we will never see again and did the best we could to resolve it. But we know the value of these 98 death claims will exceed the recovery," the judge said.

Three other major defendants in the Champlain Towers South collapse class-action lawsuit have agreed to settle with victims for a total of $55.55 million, all paid by their insurance firms.

The law firm Becker, which represented Champlain South’s condo association before the deadly June 24 collapse, will pay $31 million, the filing states.

Engineering firm Morabito Consultants, hired to inspect Champlain South for its 40-year recertification, will pay $16 million.

And DeSimone Consulting Engineers, which served as the structural engineer for a luxury condo built just feet away from Champlain South called Eighty Seven Park, will pay $8.55 million.

Cover photo: Giorgio VIERA / AFP

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