A court decided Wednesday that victims and families who lost money in the collapse of a 12-story oceanfront Florida condominium will receive a minimum of $150 million in compensation at first.
At a hearing, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman noted the amount includes insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and the projected earnings from the sale of the Surfside land where the structure formerly stood.
The judge stated, “The court’s focus has always been the victims here,” noting that the group includes tourists and renters, not simply condo owners, and that “their rights would be safeguarded.”
The $150 million does not include any proceeds from the numerous lawsuits filed since the June 24 collapse, which claimed the lives of at least 97 people. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class action that will cover all victims and family members if they choose, according to the judge.
“I have no doubt,” Hanzman said of the cases, “that no stone will be left unturned.”
The site has been cleaned of debris under the careful eye of inspectors from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is spearheading a federal investigation into the collapse, according to a receiver appointed by Hanzman to handle the Champlain Towers board’s finances.
According to the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, crucial material is being held in a Miami-area warehouse, with the remainder being placed in adjacent vacant lots. All of this will be maintained as possible evidence for the cases and for other experts to evaluate, he added.
“Their findings may take years to become public,” Goldberg added of the NIST investigation.
The building had barely completed its 40-year recertification procedure when it fell, three years after an engineer had warned of significant structural concerns that needed to be addressed immediately, and much of the concrete repair and other work had yet to begin.
Condo owners are divided on what to do with the site; some want the entire condo rebuilt so they can return, while others believe it should be left as a memorial site to remember those who perished. A third option is to mix the two.
Raysa Rodriguez, who lived on the ninth floor, said she couldn’t contemplate returning to a building where so many of her friends had perished.
Rodriguez told the judge, “I personally would never step foot in a structure; that’s a cemetery.” “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about everyone who perished.”
Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney who is representing some fellow condo owners informally, said it was critical to think imaginatively about the building sale, considering whether any stipulations, such as a monument of some type for future developers, might be included.
“It shouldn’t be a typical land sale,” Cytrynbaum added, “because we’re not on the same page.”
Hanzman, on the other hand, believes that time is of importance since the victims and their families require funds to begin reconstructing their lives.
He explained, “This is not a scenario where we have time to let the grass grow below it.”
Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach has given a piece of land in his neighboring city for a Surfside monument.
“All possibilities will be considered,” the judge stated, noting that any monument would have to be paid for using public funds, noting that “it would have to be sponsored by the general public, not by these specific victims.”