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Surfside hangs banner in honor of the 98 collapse victims following the nearly $1 billion settlement

The town of Surfside has put up a temporary banner in honor of the 98 victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse.
Verónica Zaragovia
The town of Surfside has put up a temporary banner in honor of the 98 victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse.

Inside a room at the Miami-Dade Children's Courthouse on Wednesday, the judge handling the Surfside collapse litigation said he was at a loss for words when he heard the details of a proposed settlement for the wrongful death claimants. He called it “beyond extraordinary."

Attorneys representing the victims announced that after working with a mediator, they reached a tentative deal of $997 million for people whose family members died in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building on June 24, 2021. That sum is expected is to get up to $1.1 billion with some additional funds.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a lawyer or a judge than I am today,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzan said. “It is by far to me the finest moment of my judicial career.”

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Hanzman still needs to officially approve it — a process he expects will happen in June — and he expects families to receive their share of the money by October. How much each family would receive has not been determined yet.

“There is no amount of money in the world that can possibly compensate for some of the loss that we've heard about in this case over the last ten months," Hanzman said. "But the bar rose to the occasion and we have taken a tragic black swan event, which I hope we will never see again, and we have done the best we can in a judicial form to try to resolve it for these victims."

The court-appointed receiver, Michael Goldberg, who said this case brought him to tears on several occasions, turned the praise onto Hanzman.

“You’ve shown wisdom from the bench. Seemed like you had a vision for this case, and hopefully the lawyers ... delivered on that vision," Goldberg said. "Quite honestly you set the gold standard for how these cases should be administered — to take the victims first and put the victims' rights first."

Hanzman appointed Rachel Furst, a partner at Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, as co-chair lead counsel. Outside the courthouse after the hearing, she told WLRN she worked hard because the judge expected it and because of her clients.

“It’s been an honor to work on this case on behalf of the victims of this tragedy,” she said. “It’s been nearly a year of very hard work to get to this point.”

Judd Rosen of Goldberg & Rosen was also part of the lead counsel for the victims. He said that the hardest part was not putting in the long hours for months — because pressure is something he’s used to in his work. What’s not easy is listening to harrowing stories of death.

“When you’re dealing with these types of situations where a mom loses a child, a boy loses a mom, you can’t differentiate that type of loss. It’s all horrible,” Rosen said.

Reached by phone in New York City, Lisa Shrem said the proposed settlement was a big relief to the family of Estelle Hedaya, the 98th victim to be identified. Hedaya was Shrem's best friend.

“We always felt like we were left as last,” she said. “In the beginning it was like, ‘OK, they died. We can’t worry about them, we have to worry about the living,' " Shrem said. "So I guess in that respect it’s nice to know that finally they’re remembering those who died.”

Money will come from insurance companies and defendants, including the developer of Eighty Seven Park, a condo building that was built right next door.

On May 24, the beachfront property will be sold in an auction. The initial bid has been set for $120 million. Whether it sells for that price or more, some money from that sale will go to the homeowners who survived and another amount will go to the wrongful death claimants.

On Thursday, the town of Surfside presented a long black banner that has been hung along the block of Collins Avenue where the Champlain Towers South once stood. In gold letters, it read: “98 souls lost their lives on June 24, 2021.” The names of the victims are listed beneath.

Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger told reporters he felt determined to get this temporary banner up after walking past it on a video call with his teenage daughter in Israel. She saw the site behind him and got emotional.

“While I was speaking with her, I realized that I didn’t even notice the site,” Danzinger said. “I had spent three weeks over here on ground zero but I didn’t even recognize what it had become.”

He decided if he’d win the mayoral election, he’d get this banner up to make sure everyone remembers.

Now, some of the victims' family members and local officials are pushing state lawmakers to pass a bill that would require routine inspections and the allocation of funds in reserves for upkeep of aging buildings.

The state legislature finished its regular session in March without agreement between the House and Senate on such a bill to avoid another disaster. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will not demand that they come up with a bill, saying instead he would support one and that it’s on them to come up with the measure.

Pablo Langesfeld’s daughter, Nicole, died in the collapse along with her husband, Luis Sadovnic. He said the onus is on the legislature to make it happen.

Pablo Langesfeld, center, speaks at the press conference on May 12, 2022, alongside other victims' family members and local officials.
Verónica Zaragovia
Pablo Langesfeld, center, speaks at the press conference where the banner was unveiled on Thursday, May 12, 2022, alongside other victims' family members and local officials. The conference was held at Veterans Park across the street from the Champlain Towers site.

“New regulations and strict inspections must be put in place,” he said. “No one needs to go through this unbearable, emotional, physical and psychological pain.”

The town of Surfside will host an event to mark one year since the collapse next month.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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