Florida judge says condo collapse victims will get $150M initial compensation

A Florida judge said the survivors and victims’ families in the condo building collapse will get a minimum of $150 million in compensation initially – which includes insurance on the tower and expected proceeds from a sale of the empty property.

“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing Wednesday, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. “Their rights will be protected.”

The $150 million figure includes about $50 million in insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and at least $100 million in proceeds from the sale of the property where the tower once stood.

That compensation does not count any proceeds from the bevy of lawsuits already filed since the June 24 collapse, which killed at least 97 people. Those suits are being consolidated into a single class action that would cover all victims and family members if they choose, Hanzman said.

Search and rescue personnel working on site after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, north of Miami Beach.AFP via Getty Images
Wooden hearts near the memorial represent the victims who died in the building collapse.

“I have no doubt, no stone will be left unturned,” the judge said of the lawsuits on the day the remaining rubble from the collapse of the 12-story building was cleared away.

Officials have not yet announced an end to the recovery effort. Police said Wednesday that 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova and Linda March, 58, were identified.

Gromova, of Montreal, Canada, had just been accepted to a program teaching English in Japan and was visiting the condo with friend Michelle Pazos. Her body was recovered three days ago and was one of the last to be identified.

Heavy equipment continues to remove rubble from the site of the Champlain Towers South collapse, in Surfside, Fla., Monday, July 19, 2021.
Jose A Iglesias/Miami Herald via AP
The building collapse has killed at least 97 people.

 “It just makes it real and hard but on a different level. At least we can move on now,” her sister Anna Gromova told the Associated Press, describing her sister as a bright star that fell fast. “We will remember her forever.”

She added:  “It’s hard because you knew the loss was preventable and still nothing was prevented.”

March, whose body was recovered July 5, was a successful attorney who rented the furnished penthouse where pictures of white bunk beds hanging precariously close to the shattered building made national headlines.

March had lost both her parents and sister in the past decade, had gotten a divorce and was looking for a new start in Miami, her friends said.

A banner with pictures of a family hang in the memorial that has photographs of some of the victims from the partially collapsed tower.
Getty Images
Women light candles in front of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers South condo building collapse.
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Wednesday that the debris has been relocated to an evidentiary collection site near the airport where a thorough search will continue “with enormous care and diligence.”

The rubble is being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots, said the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg.  

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading the federal investigation into the catastrophe, according to a receiver handling the finances on behalf of the condo board.

“It may take years for their report to become public,” Goldberg said of the NIST probe.

A victim of the Champlain Towers South collapse gives his parting thoughts to Judge Michael Hanzman in downtown Miami.
Yadira Santos (center), a victim of the Champlain Towers South collapse, speaks to Judge Michael Hanzman about her wishes for the site.

The tower was just undergoing its 40-year recertification process when it collapsed — three years after an engineer warned of serious structural issues needing immediate attention.   

Some people want the entire structure rebuilt so they can move back in. Others say it should be left as a memorial to honor those who perished. A third suggestion is to combine both.

Raysa Rodriguez, who owned a ninth-floor unit, said she couldn’t imagine going back into a building at a site where so many friends were killed.

Flowers and messages of love adorn a wooden heart, alongside a memorial wall for the victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse.
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

“I personally would never set foot in a building. That’s a gravesite,” Rodriguez told the judge. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of everyone who perished.”

With Post wires