Surfside building collapse hits one-year anniversary as victims get $1 billion
Miami, Florida – On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Surfside condominium collapse that killed 98 people, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman gave final approval to a $1 billion settlement of the second-largest class-action lawsuit in Florida history.
The finalization of the court decision comes as the Surfside accident hit its one-year anniversary on Friday. Florida's politicians took to Twitter to remember the day, while the families of victims held private vigils to observe the loss of their loved ones.
More than two dozen defendants who were sued for negligence after the partial collapse of Champlain Towers South on June 24, 2021, agreed last month to pay $1,021,199,000 to resolve the wrongful death and personal injury claims of family members and survivors.
The defendants, including the building’s security company, condo association law firm, consulting engineer on its 40-year recertification and renovation plan, and the developer and builders of the luxury condo next door, will pay portions using their insurance coverage. None admit any culpability in the tragedy.
Several family members and survivors came forward to thank Hanzman for consistently and occasionally abrasively pushing the pace of the proceedings to conclude the case within a year and avoid a lengthy and painful trial.
The company paying the largest share of the settlement – nearly half of the total at $517.5 million – is Securitas Security Services USA.
Its security guards monitored visitors at the front desk and operated the building’s alarm system on an emergency basis.
But a manager for the company acknowledged in a deposition to the Champlain victims’ lawyers that Securitas hadn’t trained all its guards on how to use the system to alert residents to evacuate and it was not activated the night of the collapse.
Surfside building collapse victims still have more hearings ahead
The $96 million settlement reached during contentious mediation will be split in proportion to unit size among the owners of the 136 condos, both those who survived and those who died.
Hanzman will oversee claims hearings in August during which relatives will make a case for what their loved ones’ lives were worth and survivors will make a case for what their physical and psychological injuries are worth. It’s expected to be an emotional and deeply personal process and Hanzman ruled Thursday to keep the hearings private and follow another tight deadline to finish by August 26.
"As for wrongful death claims, there is no amount of money in the world to adequately compensate people for their loss," he said. "Under the law, the court will do whatever it can do to ascribe value to their lives. It sounds cold, sounds harsh. That’s all we can do and we’re going to do it. It will be a far better result than what would’ve been achieved after a 10-year litigation slog."
Hanzman also decided to wait on deciding what to pay the lawyers until after the claims payments are determined. Over three dozen lawyers who originally agreed to work on the case and be compensated at the judge’s discretion have submitted a claim for $100 million in fees.
Cover photo: REUTERS/Marco Bello