Judge approves $1 billion deal in fatal Florida condo collapse

MIAMI (AP) — A judge Thursday gave final approval to a more than $1 billion settlement for victims of the collapse of a beachfront condominium in Florida that killed 98 people, one of the deadliest construction failures in U.S. history.

The decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in the Miami suburb of Surfside. The judge praised the dozens of lawyers involved for averting a years-long lawsuit to no avail.

“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. It is a remarkable result. It is extraordinary.”

The bulk of the $1.02 billion will go to people who lost relatives in the collapse of the 12-story building. About $100 million is earmarked for legal fees and $96 million set aside for owners who have lost one of the 136 units in the building.

None of the victims have objected to the settlement or decided to opt out, court-appointed trustee Michael Goldberg said. Several people who lost family members or property said they were grateful in court on Thursday for such a quick conclusion to a horrific experience.

Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-floor unit initially left intact, had nothing but praise for the result.

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

The ruling came during what’s called a fairness hearing, in which anyone who objects to the deal could raise it when the judge determined whether the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate,” according to court documents.

The money will come from a variety of sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to structural damage to Champlain Towers South. Neither side admits that anything is wrong.

A Dubai billionaire developer plans to buy the 1.8-acre (1 hectare) beach for $120 million, contributing to the settlement.

Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions were raised about the quality of the original construction and inspections in the early 1980s. Other possible factors include sea level rise due to climate change and damage caused by saltwater ingress.

A definitive conclusion on the cause is probably still years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal probe into the collapse, recently said invasive testing will begin soon on samples of material from the collapse site.

The tests will help researchers find potential flaws in the building’s structural elements by looking at things like the density of the materials, how porous they were and whether there was corrosion, NIST said.

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

The death toll in the Champlain Towers collapse is among the highest in US history from similar disasters. The collapse of the Hyatt Regency walkway in 1981 killed 114 people, and a disaster at the Massachusetts plant in 1860 killed between 88 and 145 workers.

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

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