Judge Gives Preliminary Approval of Billion-Dollar Surfside Class Action Settlement | Company

MIAMI — Just hours after a Surfside condo building collapsed and 98 people were buried last summer, the first of many lawsuits that would become one of Florida’s largest class action lawsuits was filed.

On Friday, less than a month before the first anniversary of the Champlain Towers South tragedy, a team of attorneys representing family members of the deceased submitted a settlement agreement totaling $1,021,199,000 to the Miami Circuit Judge -Dade, Michael Hanzman, who gave preliminary approval. Saturday after a final court hearing after round-the-clock negotiations.

“It’s a great result,” Hanzman said Saturday during a court hearing with attorneys from both sides of the massive legal dispute. “This agreement appears to be a very reasonable compromise of claims.”

Although the estimated amount was announced earlier this month, the class action’s final settlement agreement provides final details on how much each of the defendants has agreed to pay to resolve the wrongful death and personal injury claims of the relatives of the victims. They all admitted no liability and made most of their individual payments through insurance coverage.

“As this Court noted, the collapse of Champlain Towers South on June 24, 2021 in Surfside was a ‘black swan’ event that devastated this community,” class action plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in their filing. 213 page regulations.

“The death and destruction caused by the collapse caused untold harm to so many people,” the lawyers wrote. “Remarkably, after months of rigorous, arm’s length negotiations … more than two dozen potentially liable parties have agreed to an unprecedented settlement for an unprecedented event.

The developers of a nearby condo building, a consulting engineer from Tours Champlain Sud and Becker & Poliakoff, a law firm that represents numerous condominium associations, were among the defendants.

The company paying the bulk of the settlement – $517.5 million – is Securitas Security Services USA. Company employees have been hired to provide guard services, monitor visitors in the lobby and operate the building’s security system in the event of an emergency, including the front desk’s all-call alarm panel for alert residents.

In an earlier press release, Securitas USA admitted no wrongdoing or responsibility for the building’s collapse or loss of life, and noted that it did not install or maintain the building’s alarm system. building. Securitas, owned by a large Swedish company, declined to comment beyond the initial statement, which stated, “The legal and insurance claims environment surrounding this matter has required Securitas USA’s insurers to participate in the settlement.

The night of the collapse

In the early morning of June 24, the Collins Avenue property’s pool deck fell into the underground garage seven minutes before the building’s mid and ocean-facing sections collapsed, killing 98 people and injuring others. After the bridge collapsed and before the building collapsed, the Securitas security guard called 911 twice from the lobby at 1:16 a.m. and 1:17 a.m. and attempted to call residents individually on their phones .

But many residents told the Miami Herald that no general security alerts were sent or general alarms sounded before the collapse.

“Seven minutes – can you imagine how many people could have walked out?” said Raysa Rodriguez, one of the surviving owners of the part of the building that did not collapse, listing the names of her deceased friends. “Seven minutes is a long time.”

Rodriguez, who lived in Unit 907 for 18 years, called her brother from her hallway as she frantically knocked on neighbors’ doors and helped them down the stairs, and the call was recorded on her voicemail .

“You listen to my audio and there are no emergency alarms or evacuation announcements,” she said, adding that intercom speakers had been installed in the rooms of the building over the past year and a half and had been successfully tested on June 8, two weeks before the collapse. “We haven’t heard anything. It’s silent except for the car alarms going off. No alarm was triggered by security.

Joseph Blasser’s wife, Elena Blasser, 64, and stepmother, Elena Chavez, 88, died in the collapse. They were in Unit 1211. He was visiting a sick cousin in Panama. There were intercoms in both bedrooms, he said.

“They were supposed to announce out loud, ‘Leave the building, leave the building,’ and I’m sure if they had been activated, my wife would have been able to walk out with her mother in time,” Blasser said. “I don’t like to think about what happened. My wife was everything to me, my best friend, my world. I completely lost my life that night.

Payments

Plaintiffs in the Champlain South class action have settled with various entities, including the developers of the luxury condominium tower built next door at 8701 Collins Ave. and the engineers, architects and related parties of the project. These companies accounted for another large portion of the settlement totaling approximately $400 million, paid primarily by their insurers. Collectively, they were charged with causing damage during the construction of Eighty Seven Park at the nearby Champlain South property.

Here is a breakdown of some of the Eighty Seven Park entities’ settlement payments:

—8701 Collins Development, $28 million

—8701 Collins Avenue Condo Association, $29 million

—Bizzi & Partners development, $16 million

—John Moriarty and Associates of Florida, $157 million

—NV5, $25.7 million

—DeSimone Consulting Engineers, $8.5 million

—Stantec Architecture, $25 million

—Geosonics, $5 million

—Florida Civil, $6.9 million.

Others named in the settlement include Western Waterproofing Company of America, which agreed to pay $25 million, and Concrete Protection & Restoration, which agreed to pay $11 million.

In addition, Morabito Consultants, an engineering firm consulting for the Champlain Towers South condo association, agreed to pay $16 million, and the Becker law firm $31 million.

The town of Surfside agreed to pay $2 million.

Hanzman, the judge, is expected to give final approval to the class action settlement later this summer, after a comment period and “equity hearing” on June 23. Hanzman also plans to participate in a series of claims hearings in which relatives and representatives of victims who died or were injured in the Champlain South collapse will be able to defend what their lives were worth — a process that should be both arduous and moving.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Hanzman agreed to increase the previous $83 million property settlement for Champlain’s 136 condo owners to $96 million after dozens of people complained about the previous settlement, especially after the estimated $1 billion wrongful death class action settlement was reported earlier. this month. The owners expressed surprise at the huge settlement and told the judge they deserved more money for their lost units, saying they still felt the original settlement undervalued their condos. An independent appraiser had determined that the total value of the condominium units before the structure collapsed would be $96 million.

The money for the property’s revised settlement will come from the Champlain South Condo Association’s $50 million insurance coverage and the remainder of a portion of the condominium building’s sale for $120 million. dollars to a development company in Dubai. His initial offer was accepted by Hanzman this week after no other company came up with competing bids to buy the nearly two-acre beachfront property. The Middle Eastern developer plans to build a luxury high-rise condo.

The speed with which the final class action settlement was reached impressed not only Hanzman, but also the family members of those who died in the tragedy. Many plaintiffs’ attorneys praised court-appointed mediator Bruce Greer, an attorney who volunteered his time to bring the parties together in the property and wrongful death settlements, as well as the association’s receiver. of the co-owners of Champlain Sud, lawyer Michael Goldberg. .

“We are pleased to have finalized the settlements we have reached with more than two dozen parties and their insurers,” class action team co-chairs Harley Tropin and Rachel Furst said in a statement.

“We are grateful to Judge Hanzman, who expedited this case to resolve it in record time,” they said. “We also acknowledge the efforts of Receiver Michael Goldberg and Mediator Bruce Greer and all members of the Plaintiffs Steering Committee who have worked tirelessly on this matter.”

The $1 billion wrongful death settlement of the Champlain class is surpassed in Florida legal history by only one other class action case: in 1997, Big Tobacco corporations Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and Lorillard Tobacco Co., reached a staggering settlement with some 40 states for the cost of treating sick smokers. Florida share: $11.3 billion.

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Michael J. Chiaramonte