Judge OKs insurance disbursements to victims of fatal Surfside condo collapse

Receiver to oversee association’s financial dealings in wake of deadly calamity

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in Surfside at a memorial for people lost since the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building (Getty)
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in Surfside at a memorial for people lost since the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building (Getty)

The collapsed Surfside condominium’s association is handing over financial decisions to a receiver who can disburse up to $10,000 in insurance funds for new housing to each surviving family. Another $2,000 could be given to relatives of the deceased for funeral expenses and related costs, a judge ruled.

The tower has a total of at least $48 million in insurance coverage, an attorney for the insurers said, although more could be available.

The coverage “would obviously be inadequate to compensate everyone fully to the extent of their horror,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said during a hearing on Thursday. “And that is unfortunate.”

So far, five lawsuits have been filed against the association and, in some cases, others, in the wake of the deadly collapse of Champlain Towers South at 8777 Collins Avenue.

Rescue crews continue to search for more than 100 missing, more than a week after the building caved in. Twenty are confirmed dead, and that number is expected to grow.

Hanzman appointed attorney Michael Goldberg as the receiver during a hearing Friday morning. The judge allowed Goldberg, an Akerman partner, to meet with families and make the disbursements to the survivors and families at his “discretion.”

A survivor with means to find new housing might not get the full $10,000 amount. Still, the judge said he does not want financial audits of survivors.

The disbursements will come from an $18 million liability insurance line from various carriers, according to attorney Sina Bahadoran.

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The $18 million includes $2 million from James River Insurance, an association liability insurer that voluntarily tendered the entire amount to resolve all the claims, court records show. The building has a separate $30 million Great American Insurance policy for the physical structure.

Hanzman added during Friday’s hearing that another possible source of recovery would be the real estate, and asked attorneys to “immediately” look into whether there is any debt. He also asked attorneys to consult with professionals about the fair-market value of the property, although adding that it will not yet be listed.

“At some point to compensate these victims we are going to have to list that real estate when it is appropriate to try and get the highest and best offer for the land value,” Hanzman told attorneys. “I want you to start on that immediately.”

Hanzman said that he might consolidate all of the claims for death and injury under one counsel and all the property claims under another.

Although the lawsuits were preliminarily filed against the condo association, attorneys have said other defendants are likely to be added.

Some of the suits also are against engineering firm Morabito Consultants, which the association had hired for the tower’s 40-year recertification underway before the collapse. Morabito in a 2018 report had warned of “major structural damage” to the slab below the pool deck. Before the collapse, only roof work had started and bids were out for concrete restoration.

The association agreed to a receiver on Monday morning before Hanzman’s appointment of Goldberg. Hanzman commended the association for that, noting the difficult and stressful time. One association board member is among the missing.

In a statement, the Champlain association said a receiver is in “the best interest of all concerned.”

“The collapse of Champlain Towers South is an unspeakable tragedy that has devastated our community, our neighbors, and our friends. We are grieving and our hearts ache for those who have been lost and for their families,” the association said in a statement emailed on Friday. “They have our deepest condolences.”