Florida condo collapse settlement reached, tops $1 billion

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FILE - A giant tarp covers a section of rubble where search and rescue personnel have been working at the Champlain Towers South condo building on Sunday, July 4, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Attorneys for the families who lost relatives or homes in last years collapse of a Florida condominium tower that killed 98 people finalized a $1 billion settlement on Friday, May 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Attorneys for the families who lost relatives in last year’s collapse of a Florida condominium tower that killed 98 people reached a $1.02 billion settlement Friday, providing a speedy resolution to lawsuits that could have dragged on for years.

The agreement to end litigation over the Champlain Towers South tragedy awaits approval by Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, but that should just be a formality.

Lawyers previously had announced in court a tentative agreement that almost $1 billion would be split by the families whose relatives died or were harmed in the collapse of the 12-story tower in Surfside, and parties on both sides of the lawsuit filed a motion Friday committing to a $1.02 billion settlement fund. Additionally, nearly $100 million will be split by those who lost their property in the collapse.

Families of victims will have to file claims, as the money will not be split evenly. The goal is to begin distributing money by September.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering companies and a luxury condominium that had recently been built next door. None of the parties are admitting wrongdoing. A billionaire developer from Dubai i s set to purchase the 1.8-acre (1-hectare) beachside site for $120 million, contributing to the settlement.

The judge will determine the attorneys fees, but it is expected to be a fraction of the third lawyers would normally earn. Cases like this typically take three years or more to reach a settlement, let alone get to trial.

In their motion for “preliminary approval of class action settlement," attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants described the collapse in Surfside as a “ ‘black swan’ event that devastated this community," and said they were “proud to have met this Court’s challenge to provide relief to the class of victims before the one-year anniversary of the collapse.”

Most of Champlain Towers South collapsed suddenly around 1:20 a.m. last June 24 as most of its residents slept. Only three people survived the initial collapse.

No other survivors were found despite around-the-clock efforts by rescuers who dug through a 40-foot (12-meter) high pile of rubble for two weeks. Another three dozen people were able to escape from the portion of the building that remained standing. All 135 units were ultimately demolished, leaving a gaping hole along Surfside's beachfront.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process expected to take years. Champlain South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s.

The collapse drew new scrutiny to high-rise safety statewide, especially in vulnerable coastal areas. At the time, Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward counties were the only ones of Florida’s 67 counties requiring buildings to recertify their safety after 40 years.

New legislation passed by the Legislature this week in a special session and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis will require those certifications statewide, significantly earlier in the building’s lifespan.

Recertification will be required after 30 years, or 25 years if the building is within 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the coast, and every 10 years thereafter. The Champlain Towers South was 40 years old and its condominium association had been struggling with compliance at the time of the collapse.