Judge is disappointed in how mediation is going in condo collapse case, grants new motions.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, appointed to oversee the litigation following the Champlain Towers South Building collapse in Surfside, Florida, is pushing for the two sides in the condo case to come to a compromise after hearing both for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, it seems that this could be a long time out.
Champlain Towers South suddenly collapsed with many of the residents inside earlier this year. Some made it out, while others did not. Now, the residents who survived, and the families of those who did notl are questioning why the complex unexpectedly came tumbling to the ground. Lawsuits have filed against the association on their behalf.
Attorney Bruce Greer, appointed by Hanzman to mediate, said at a recent hearing that many condo owners want all of the proceeds from the property’s sale, as well as insurance and lawsuit damages, to go to them. Some of those who lost loved ones, however, contend the condo owners should be assessed to pay for their losses and be held liable for legal damages because they did not deal with longstanding structural problems despite being issued warnings.
“These two positions could not be further apart,” Greer expressed to Hanzman. “This is a heartbreaking situation. These are very recalcitrant positions.” Hanzman responded, however, that it was too soon to come to a mediated settlement.
“I have to say I’m disappointed to hear this broke down so quickly and people are taking such extreme positions,” he said. “Now is the time for compromise if possible. I’m not expecting unanimity.” He added that anyone who is opposed to a proposed deal will have their chance to voice their objections, but reiterated, “There is a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of anger. The law will decide this.”
An offer of $120 million has been made for the property and an auction is set tentatively for February 2022, so additional offers may come in the interim. Funds to compensate victims are expected to come from insurance and lawsuit damages, if awarded.
Hanzman also approved a motion allowing Miami-Dade County to dispose of building rubble deemed “unnecessary” for investigators looking into the cause of the collapse. The county took control of the property after the collapse. The court-appointed receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, said authorities had “carefully gone through the rubble multiple times to find any human remains or personal property.” Hanzman approved another motion allowing Goldberg to take possession of the Champlain Towers site so experts could continue their investigation.
Governor Ron DeSantis said shortly after the incident, “Concerns about the remaining part of the building left few options but demolition. Residents of the building who survived fled with whatever they had with them and had not been permitted to enter the teetering structure. Passports, wedding rings, cherished photos were left behind. At the end of the day, that building is too unsafe to let people go back in. I know there’s a lot of people who were able to get out, fortunately, who have things there. We’re very sensitive to that. But I don’t think that there’s any way you could let someone go back up into that building given the shape that it’s in now.”
Goldberg responded to the judge’s approval of the transfer of ownership, “This case is entering a new phase today. We’ll make sure everybody gets proper access.”