MIAMI – Family of the victims of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Fla., which killed 98 people last year reached a $ 997 million settlement to compensate them for their horrific loss of life.
The settlement, which was revealed at a court hearing on Wednesday and is still awaiting final approval, involves insurance companies, developers of a nearby building and other defendants in several civil cases. It will come six weeks before the first anniversary of the tragedy on June 24.
“I was shocked by this result – I think it was remarkable,” said Judge Michael A. Hanzman of the Miami -Dade County Circuit Court. “It’s a recovery that’s more than I expected.”
Prior to Wednesday’s bizarre announcement, the judge approved a smaller settlement of $ 83 million to be shared by condo unit owners for their loss of property. No compensation has been determined for the families of the deceased, who now receive $ 997 million.
“It represents a lot of money, but it can’t go back to Jonah’s mom,” said Neil Handler, whose son was one of only a handful of people who survived the devastation. Jonah Handler’s mother Stacie Fang, 54, was the first victim identified in the crash.
“No one could resist what I faced last Sunday on Mother’s Day – that’s not something to be exchanged for any money for her,” Mr. Handler said of his son, who is now 16 years old and has broken many bones in his back. .
How the money will be divided among the relatives of the 98 victims will be determined in the coming weeks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is still investigating what caused the 13-story, 135-unit building to partially collapse in the middle of the night, a review that could take years.
Separate compensation for the families of the victims, who have lost loved ones, and survivors, who have lost condo units, led to major controversy between the groups and the raw, emotional testimony of the court in a hearing in March that had both sides fighting against each other.
“We knew we didn’t cause the collapse,” said Oren Cytrynbaum, a unit owner, previously. “A billion dollars, if I’m on the other side, won’t bring back loved ones.”
Funds for $ 83 million for the unit owners will come from insurers at Champlain Towers South and the sale of land where the building is located at 8777 Collins Ave. The nearly two-acre beachfront property is expected to be sold soon, after an auction, for at least $ 120 million.
As part of their initial settlement, the condo owners were acquitted of any liability for negligence in maintaining the building. Under Florida law, they can be prosecuted up to the value of their units.
At first, any settlement seemed impossible. Some families of the victims argued that all the money raised through the lawsuit should have gone to them, and not to the unit owners. Judge Hanzman disagreed, saying the unit owners had to rebuild their lives from the unfinished after their severe economic loss. The part of the building that did not collapse demolished in the days after the tragedy, that the unit owners could no longer return.
Judge Hanzman approved the $ 83 million settlement in March, with no guarantee that more money would follow for the victims ’families – and the possibility of a lengthy, dragged trial that would last years, as did many cases of class action.
The larger settlement for the victims ’families was announced publicly on Wednesday after developers of the nearby luxury building, Eighty Seven Park, and a murdered contractor and consultant were sued or investigated by lawyers in victims signed. Plaintiffs argue that construction work on Eighty Seven Park damaged Champlain Towers South – an accusation denied by developers and contractors at Eighty Seven Park.
Lawyers said the settlement for the victims’ families could expand further, to about $ 1 billion, if they negotiate with the rest of the company. Among the companies that have agreed to settle are engineers inspected and began to do the work to address serious structural faults at Champlain Towers South prior to the collapse.
Companies will not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. But Judd G. Rosen, one of the attorneys for the victims’ families without condo units, said the settlement numbers “speak for themselves.”
“It’s a step in the right direction towards bringing them a sense of dignity and responsibility for what happened,” he said of the families of the victims. “A billion dollars cannot be paid without a sense of responsibility for this loss.”
In total, the total amount recovered for the families of the victims and survivors could exceed $ 1.1 billion.
Judge Hanzman said he wants the trial to be completed before June 24 and pay for the survivors and families of the fall victims.
Susana Alvarez, 62, a survivor of the collapse, said she and other unit owners received no information on when exactly they would receive the money.
“Many of us have to buy homes; we literally live with relatives, ”he said, adding that he just wanted to move on from the horrible day.
“I’m alive, thank God,” he said. “We just want peace.”
Pablo Rodriguez, who lost his mother, Elena Blasser, 64, and grandmother, Elena Chavez, 88, in the collapse, said he had mixed emotions about the settlement.
“I think this is the best outcome we can expect because of the situation,” Mr. Rodriguez said, even if “there is no amount of money that can cure everyone.”
Nearly a year ago, Mr. Rodriguez, 41, said the deaths of his loved ones still felt unreal, and horrific.
“That video of the building falling,” he said, “it still wakes me up at night.”