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Judge backs $1B US settlement over deadly Florida condo collapse

A Florida judge on Saturday gave initial approval to a settlement of more than $1 billion US to families who lost loved ones in the collapse last year of a Florida beachfront condominium building in which 98 people, including four Canadians, died.

Initial compensation approval given for families after beachfront building collapse killed 98 last year

A quick legal settlement following the deadly collapse in June 2021 of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Fla., means years of court battles will be avoided. (Miami-Dade Fire Department/Reuters)

A Florida judge on Saturday gave initial approval to a settlement of more than $1 billion US to families who lost loved ones in the collapse last year of a Florida beachfront condominium building in which 98 people, including four Canadians, died.

The quick settlement following the unprecedented collapse of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South building in the early morning hours of June 24, 2021, means that potentially years of court battles will be avoided.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing the lawsuits filed after the collapse, said during a hearing held remotely that it was the best possible outcome given the loss of life and property in the disaster.

"It is a great result," Hanzman said before giving preliminary approval to the agreement, which was announced Friday. "This was a very contested deal."

'This was heavily negotiated'

Rachel Furst, co-chair of the attorney group representing victims' families, said the agreement also means defendants — insurance companies, developers, the town of Surfside and others — will have "complete peace" that they won't be sued again. Still, some people may decide to opt out of the deal and pursue their own independent claims.

"This was heavily negotiated," Furst said. "We believe this is an outstanding settlement."

WATCH | Canadian woman identified among victims of Florida condo collapse: 

Canadian woman identified among victims of Florida condo collapse

12 months ago
Duration 2:01
A Canadian woman has been identified as one of the victims of the Surfside, Fla., condo collapse. She had seven children and had recently celebrated the birth of a grandchild. Three Canadians are still among the missing after the collapse.

Under the agreement, people involved in the settlement directly will have until June 16 to file a notice that they intend to opt out. A week later on June 23, Hanzman will have a fairness hearing to allow anyone objecting to the settlement to be heard.

Michael Goldberg, a lawyer and the court-appointed receiver handling the case for the judge, said notice will go out to all family members of those who died. It will be posted on the Champlain Towers South website and be put into the Miami Herald.

"We will begin immediately," Goldberg said.

The total for the families who lost loved ones in the collapse is about $1.02 billion US. Separately, people whose condos were destroyed and lost property, such as furnishings and mementos, will share about $96 million US.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, visit a memorial for victims of the building collapse on July 1, 2021, in Surfside. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Families of victims will have to file claims, as the money will not be split evenly. The goal is to begin distributing money by September.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering companies and a luxury condominium that had recently been built next door. None of the parties are admitting wrongdoing. A billionaire developer from Dubai is set to purchase the one-hectare (1.8-acre) beachside site for $120 million US, contributing to the settlement.

Only three survivors were found despite around-the-clock efforts by rescuers, who dug through a 12-metre-high pile of rubble for two weeks. Another three dozen people were able to escape from the portion of the building that remained standing. All 135 units were ultimately demolished, leaving a gaping hole along Surfside's beachfront.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process expected to take years. Champlain South had a long history of maintenance problems, and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s.

With files from CBC News

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