The Surfside collapse litigation reached an almost $1 billion settlement, a landmark development in the court battle to bring some justice to the families of the 98 people who died less than a year ago.
The milestone agreement follows weeks of mediation between attorneys for the plaintiffs and the slew of parties sued over allegedly contributing to the deadly collapse of Champlain Towers South last summer. The settlement is for $997 million, although it could exceed $1 billion as negotiations continue with one remaining defendant.
More than 25 entities and companies opted to settle the suit, including the Terra-led development team of Eighty Seven Park, the condo tower next door that was alleged to have played a role in the collapse.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman, who has overseen the litigation since it began last year, expressed his pride for the lawyers involved in the case and called the settlement “beyond extraordinary.”
But he also acknowledged that “no amount of money can possibly compensate” the loss of a loved one. Citing Cicero’s quote, “There is no grief which time does not lessen and soften,” Hanzman added that he hopes some of that stands true for victims’ families.
“I am not going to say up here that this resolution allows them to move on and heal because that’s something that’s just not true,” the judge said. “The Bar rose to the occasion. We have done the best we can in a judicial forum.”
GeoSonics, the vibration monitoring firm involved in the construction of Eighty Seven Park is the sole remaining defendant, said attorney Rachel Furst, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Furst said negotiations are ongoing.
The 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South collapsed in the early morning of June 24. The settlement is primarily for the death and injury subclass of the litigation, meaning disbursements will go mainly to those who lost loved ones, although it would include other claims such as for post traumatic stress disorder and/or the loss of unit contents.
Hanzman approved a separate $83 million settlement in March for the economic loss of a unit by owners of the 136 condos at Champlain. Those funds will be drawn from insurance proceeds and the future sale of the 1.9-acre site.
An auction will be held on May 24, after stalking horse bidder Damac Properties, based in Dubai, completed its inspection of the site and deemed it developable. Damac set the floor price at $120 million, with other bidders expected to participate.
The defendants that will contribute to the $997 million settlement include Terra-tied entities and the rest of the development team for Eighty Seven Park, including general contractor John Moriarty & Associates of Florida; geotechnical engineer NV5; and structural engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers. Other participants are Morabito Consultants, Champlain’s engineer for the building’s 40-year recertification; and Becker & Poliakoff, the condo association’s law firm. They were named in the lawsuit over the collapse.
Other settling parties that were not defendants in the suit include the town of Surfside, and Bizzi & Partners, a co-developer of Eighty Seven Park.
Those who lost loved ones would have the option to opt out of the settlement. Hanzman will give the settlement preliminary approval next week, then hold a hearing for plaintiffs to raise objections, and give final approval to the agreement in mid-June. He wants disbursements of checks to start in the fall.
Hanzman said he wanted to officially close the case ahead of the first anniversary of the collapse. The judge and others, including court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg and Harley Tropin, co-lead counsel with Furst, complimented the dozens of attorneys working on resolving the litigation, as well as court-appointed mediator Bruce Greer.
“This case answers the question: When there’s an unspeakable, awful tragedy, what can lawyers from the court do? They can do their best,” Tropin said. “We can bring some measure of closure and some money back to the victims.”