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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Judge approves $1 billion deal in Florida condominium collapse

MIAMI ( Associated Press) — A judge on Thursday gave final approval to a settlement of more than $1 billion for the victims of a condominium building collapse off the coast of Florida that killed 98 people in one of the deadliest building crashes in U.S. history.

Miami-Dade District Judge Michael Huntsman’s decision came a day before the anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in the Miami suburb of Surfside. The judge praised the dozens of lawyers involved for preventing what could have dragged on for years of litigation without a sure outcome.

“It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss they have suffered,” the judge said. “This settlement is the best we can do. This is a wonderful result. It’s unusual”.

Most of the $1.02 billion total will go to people who lost family members in the 12-story building collapse. About $100 million has been set aside for legal fees, while $96 million has been set aside for owners who have lost one of the building’s 136 apartments.

According to court-appointed trustee Michael Goldberg, none of the victims filed objections to the settlement agreement or opted to withdraw from it. Several people who have lost family members or property said in court on Thursday that they are grateful for the horrific experience to come to an end so quickly.

Raisa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-floor apartment that was originally left untouched, couldn’t help but praise the result.

“You have no idea what a relief this is for me personally,” said Rodriguez. “I am so exhausted. I just want it to be done. I want these souls to rest.”

The decision was made during a so-called fairness hearing, in which anyone with objections to the deal could raise them as the judge determined whether the settlement was “fair, reasonable and adequate,” according to court documents.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent development next door is suspected of contributing to the structural damage to Champlain Towers South. Neither side pleads guilty.

A Dubai-based billionaire developer is set to purchase a 1.8-acre (1 hectare) waterfront property for $120 million to contribute to a settlement.

Champlain Towers South has a long history of maintenance problems, and questions arose in the early 1980s about the quality of its original design and inspections. Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by salt water intrusion.

The final conclusion about the cause, most likely, will be made in years. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal investigation into the collapse, recently said invasive testing of material samples from the collapse site will begin soon.

The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in a building’s structural elements by examining things like materials’ density, porosity, and corrosion, NIST said.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums over three stories high under new legislation Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month in response to the disaster.

The death toll from the collapse of the Champlain Towers is one of the highest such disasters in US history. The Hyatt Regency footpath collapse in 1981 killed 114 people, and an 1860 Massachusetts factory accident killed between 88 and 145 workers.

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Anderson contributed to this story from St. Petersburg, Florida.

World Nation News Desk
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