Judge approves $1 billion payout to victims of Florida building collapse

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A judge has given final approval to a settlement in excess of $1bn (£791m) for victims of a Florida beachfront building collapse that killed 98 people.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman’s decision 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 attorneys involved for avoiding what could have been years of litigation with no certain outcome.

“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’s extraordinary.

Most of the $1.02 billion total will go to people who lost family members in the collapse of the 12-story building. About $100 million is for legal fees and $96 million for landlords who lost one of the building’s 136 homes.

A bather takes a picture of a banner showing the names of the victims (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

No victim has filed an objection to the settlement or opted out, said court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg.

Several people who lost family members or property said in court that they were grateful for such a quick conclusion to a horrific experience.

Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse of a ninth-floor unit originally left intact, had nothing but praise for the outcome.

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

The decision was made during what’s called an equity hearing, where anyone with objections to the deal could raise them when the judge determined whether the settlement was ‘fair, reasonable and adequate. “, according to court documents.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent construction next door is suspected of having contributed to the structural damage of the South Champlain Towers. Neither party admits wrongdoing.

A billionaire Dubai developer is set to buy the 1.8-acre beachfront site for $120 million, helping with the settlement.

Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance issues and questions were raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s.

Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage from saltwater intrusion.

A final conclusion on the cause is likely years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal investigation into the collapse, recently said invasive testing would soon begin on samples of material from the site of the collapse.

The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in the structural elements of the building by looking at things like the density of the materials, their porosity and whether there was any corrosion.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums over three stories under new legislation enacted last month in response to the disaster.

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

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