Surfside building collapse: Judge agrees condo owners should get more

Miami, Florida - The judge overseeing the class-action lawsuit for the Surfside condo collapse said on Tuesday he would increase the payout for condominium owners whose homes were destroyed in last year's accident.

Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.
Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.  © Giorgio VIERA / AFP

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman gave preliminary approval to pay the 136 unit owners a total of $96 million, which he said was the appraised value of their homes prior to the June 24 collapse.

The owners previously agreed to an $83 million allocation, but about 50 of them signed a letter last week asking that Hanzman reconsider the payment after a nearly $1-billion settlement was announced for the wrongful death and personal injury claims. The Champlain Towers South collapse killed 98 people.

The additional $13 million may come from the planned sale of the beachfront property where the 12-story condo building once stood, or from other funds, said Michael Goldberg, the receiver for the Champlain Towers South condominium association.

Hanzman said he would not take money from the wrongful death and personal injury settlement, which was announced to be more than $1 billion on Tuesday. The vast majority of that money will be paid to the estates of the 98 victims who died in the collapse.

The 1.8-acre property at 8777 Collins Avenue will be sold to billionaire developer Hussain Sajwani, of the Dubai-based DAMAC Properties, for $120 million after no other prospective buyers bid on the land by a Friday deadline.

But unit owners won’t see any money until after the sale closes. Goldberg said he expected it to close between June 20 and July 20.

Judge says condo owners have been "victimized"

People lift their hands during a prayer at the memorial site for victims of the Surfside condo collapse.
People lift their hands during a prayer at the memorial site for victims of the Surfside condo collapse.  © Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Hanzman said he wanted to help the unit owners because he considers them victims in the case, although he said some may argue the owners let the building fall into disrepair.

"I do believe in many ways they have been victimized by this, they have been traumatized by this, and I want to see them in a position to get a new home and carry on with their lives," he said.

Hanzman expressed frustration with the lawyers in the class-action case who said they needed more time to submit their settlement agreement because of remaining sticking points with attorneys for the defendants.

The legal team’s lead attorney, Harley Tropin, said the final settlement for deaths and injuries in the condominium building’s collapse has grown to $1,004,600,000 – a slight increase in total compensation since the tentative agreement was announced on May 11. That settlement amount was $997 million. The judge was expecting to receive the agreement last week.

But Tropin told the judge that the legal team needed more time to resolve matters in the final settlement deal unrelated to financial issues. "We’re optimistic that we can get it done, but we haven’t gotten it done yet," Tropin said.

Hanzman then gave the lawyers – on both the plaintiff and defense sides – an ultimatum. He set a new deadline for noon Friday to submit the final settlement agreement. If both sides don’t meet that deadline, the judge said he would hold an evidentiary hearing on June 1, and require the lawyers to explain why they could not get the deal done.

The plaintiff attorneys are representing the 98 people who died in the condominium building’s collapse as well as some who suffered injuries; the defense attorneys are representing more than 20 defendants, including developers, contractors and engineers.

"At some point this plane has to come in for a landing," Hanzman said during Tuesday’s hearing in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. "I am not going to let this plane circle forever. ... I will enforce [the settlement] if you can’t come to terms on the agreement."

Cover photo: Giorgio VIERA / AFP

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