Lawyers: near $1 billion tentative settlement in condo collapse

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A nearly $1 billion interim settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit filed by families of victims and survivors of a condominium collapse last June in Surfside, Floridaa lawyer said Wednesday.

Harley S. Tropin announced the $997 million settlement during a hearing before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman. Still pending final approval, the settlement involves the developers of an adjacent building, insurance companies and other defendants.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Hanzman said, reacting to the lawyers’ update. “It’s a recovery far beyond what I had expected.”

Earlier this year, Hanzman approved an $83 million settlement to compensate people who have suffered economic losses such as condominium units and personal property. A key question from the beginning has been how to allocate money from the sale of the property, insurance proceeds and damages from lawsuits between wrongful death cases and property claims.

The 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium partially collapsed in the early morning hours of June 24, almost instantly destroying dozens of individual condominium units and burying the victims under tons of rubble. Rescuers spent weeks carefully digging up mountains of concrete, first to find survivors and then to recover the remains of those who died.. Ten days after the initial collapse, demolition crews used explosives to bring down the remaining part of the building to allow searchers access to additional areas where survivors may have been located. A total of 98 people were killed.

The tragedy in the town of Surfside, just north of Miami Beach, has sparked lawsuits from victims, families and condo owners, and sparked state and federal investigations. In October, a coalition of engineers and architects said the state of Florida should consider requiring high-rise buildings near the coast to undergo safety inspections every 20 years. And in December, a Florida grand jury released a long list of recommendations aimed at preventing another collapse of the condominium, including earlier and more frequent inspections and better sealing.

At the time of the collapse, Miami-Dade and Broward were the only two of the state’s 67 counties with condominium recertification programs.

The main lawsuit, filed on behalf of the victims and family members of the South Champlain Towers, alleges that work on the adjacent Eighty Seven Park tower damaged and destabilized the Champlain Towers building, which was in need of major structural repairs. The Champlain Towers were in the middle of their 40-year structural overhaul when they partially collapsed.

Video released by a team of federal investigators showed evidence of extensive corrosion and overcrowded concrete reinforcement in the building.

Seven months after the collapse, temporary structural supports were added to the underground garage areas of Champlain Towers South’s twin tower, Champlain Towers North, in what the building’s condo board called “an abundance of caution.” The condo was built in 1981 and has an almost identical design to the Tours Champlain Sud.

The little-known enclave of Surfside features a mix of older homes and condos similar to the collapsed tower, built decades ago for the middle class, and newly erected luxury condos appealing to the wealthy. That includes former first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who live about a block north of the collapsed condo. Residents of Champlain Towers South were an international mix: South American immigrants, Orthodox Jews and foreign retirees.

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This story has been corrected to show that Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman said he was offended by the settlement, not Harley S. Tropin.

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