Judge pushes for payout compromise in Florida condo collapse

A judge on Wednesday pushed for compromise on potential payouts to people who lost loved ones and those whose units were destroyed in the deadly collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium.

An initial attempt to mediate a solution over the past two weeks encountered hardened positions between the two sides in the aftermath of the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida, that killed 98 people.

Attorney Bruce Greer, appointed by a judge to mediate the dispute, said at a hearing that many condo owners want all proceeds from a property sale, insurance and lawsuit damages to go to them. Some of those who lost loved ones insist the condo owners should be assessed to pay for their losses and may be liable for legal damages because longstanding structural problems with the building were never dealt with, despite warnings.

“These two positions could not be further apart,” Greer told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is presiding over lawsuits stemming from the collapse. “This is a heartbreaking situation. These are very recalcitrant positions.”

Hanzman urged those involved to continue talking. He said it was too soon to throw in the towel on a mediated settlement.

“I have to say I’m disappointed to hear this broke down so quickly and people are taking such extreme positions,” the judge said. “Now is the time for compromise if possible. I’m not expecting unanimity.”

Hanzman said anyone opposed to a proposed settlement would be able to have their objections heard.

“There is a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of anger. The law will decide this,” the judge said.

An offer of $120 million has been made for the property with more bids expected in the coming weeks. An auction for the sale is tentatively set for February. Money to compensate victims will also come from insurance and from lawsuit damages, if any.

In another development, Hanzman approved a motion allowing Miami-Dade County to dispose of building rubble deemed unnecessary for investigators looking into the cause of the collapse and legal experts hired to help determine who is liable for damages in the lawsuits.

The court-appointed receiver handling the property and finances, lawyer Michael Goldberg, said authorities had carefully gone through the rubble multiple times to find any human remains or personal property.

In addition, Hanzman approved another motion allowing Goldberg to take possession of the Champlain Towers property so that experts working for law firms can begin their on-site investigations. The property has been under Miami-Dade County control since the collapse and government investigators have already been at work there and in a warehouse where key building material was taken.

“This case is entering a new phase today,” Goldberg said. “We’ll make sure everybody gets proper access.”