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Victims of Surfside Condo Collapse Reach $997 Million Settlement

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 5/12/2022 Laura Kusisto
© Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Relatives of victims of the 2021 condo tower collapse in Surfside, Fla., have reached a proposed $997 million settlement to resolve wrongful death claims against defendants sued over the building’s failure.

The payout, announced in a court hearing Wednesday, would settle claims brought by family members of the 98 victims of the collapse of Champlain Towers South last June.

Defendants in the case included the building’s insurers, developers of a neighboring condo building, an engineering firm that warned of the tower’s structural issues before its collapse and others.

The settlement is much higher than most lawyers initially expected. The initial pool of insurance money to settle both claims for victims who lost their homes and those who lost family members was $50 million.

Earlier this spring, condo plaintiffs settled their property-damage claims for about $83 million.

The case was settled on an unusually tight timeline. Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman in Miami had said he wanted the litigation to be resolved within a year, an accelerated timeline for class-action lawsuits, which can take years to resolve. The judge said he wanted the insurance proceeds to go to the victims rather than be gobbled up in legal fees from protracted litigation.


Video: Surfside families seek answers despite settlement (Associated Press)

“It was as difficult a case as one gets,” Judge Hanzman said during Wednesday’s hearing. “For results like this to happen a lot of things have to break your way.”

The judge will have to approve the settlement for it to become final.

The 40-year-old building with some 136 apartments collapsed in the early morning hours when many residents were asleep. It is a rare event for a building to collapse with no clear trigger, such as an earthquake, and it raised troubling questions about the country’s aging condo buildings.

Plaintiff attorneys had said it would take close to $1 billion to compensate all the victims fairly based on the value of the units lost, which ranged from about $400,000 to about $2.9 million, compensation for trauma and potential punitive damages a jury might award. But attorneys said they were unlikely to reach that number unless they could bring in a deep-pocketed defendant.

As the linchpin of that effort, surviving residents and victims’ families sued the developers of the neighboring luxury condo, Eighty Seven Park, in November, alleging that the nearby construction destabilized the building and helped lead to the collapse.

Attorneys at the hearing didn’t disclose the breakdown of how much individual defendants were paying as part of the settlement.

Michael Thomas, an attorney for the development team behind Eighty Seven Park, said the building’s development “in no way caused or contributed to the collapse of Champlain Towers South.”

“Hopefully, ending this litigation will help bring some closure to the survivors of this tragic event,” he said.

Separately, the land on which the collapsed condo building once stood is expected to be sold for somewhere upward of $100 million.

Write to Laura Kusisto at laura.kusisto@wsj.com

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