Mediation talks on divvying up disbursements among victims of the Surfside condo collapse have hit a stalemate, revealing two opposing sides that pit survivors who lost their homes against those who lost loved ones.
In total, roughly a dozen views have been expressed on how funds should be allocated. But ultimately, opinions fall into three major groups, including some arguing mediation is premature, mediator Bruce Greer told the court at a Wednesday morning hearing.
The other two groups offered opposing views: Some survivors argue they are entitled to the entirety of the land sale and building insurance proceeds as reimbursement for losing their units, and anything more would be for wrongful death claims, Greer said in court. Yet, those who lost loved ones argue that not only should unit owners not get reimbursed for the loss of their homes, but they should be assessed to pay for wrongful death claims and potentially be exposed to individual liability claims.
“Those two points could not be further apart, and could not be more vigorously asserted,” by attorneys, Greer said.
Meanwhile, the nearly 2-acre oceanfront land — where the 12-story Champlain Towers South collapsed four months ago, killing nearly 100 people — is on the market and drawing interest.
Stalking horse bidder, Dubai-based Damac Properties, set the floor price at $120 million. Others have expressed interest in offering more, making an auction likely in late February or late March, Avison Young broker Michael Fay, charged with marketing the site, said in court. Interest has come from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and New York, he said.
In addition, roughly $49 million will come from building and liability insurance.
Still, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is presiding over the collapse litigation, has said these proceeds won’t be enough to reimburse victims of the tragedy.
Hanzman had appointed attorney Greer to try to mediate disbursement issues through negotiations with attorneys representing the two major classes of victims. The appointment was a way to hash out the disbursement issue early on and not delay it until the land sale proceeds come in.
Greer on Wednesday recommended stopping mediation, citing one group’s opinion that talks are premature. But attorneys for victims countered that negotiations so far have been productive and that this is not an easy process, prompting Greer to agree to continue mediation.
Hanzman, who disagreed with the view that mediation is premature, said that complete unanimity among victims is not expected at mediation, and those who disagree will be heard by the judge. But if neither of the opposing sides budges, then the issue of disbursements will be hashed out in court, which could take years, Hanzman cautioned.
“If you can’t resolve this, I am going to call balls and strikes,” he said. “This court will go where the law takes it.”
This could mean a middle ground, where proceeds are divided pro rata, or it could mean that one of the opposing views turns out to be legally correct.
“Someone may be right, and someone may be wrong. It is what it is,” Hanzman said. But “absent a compromise, one group or the other may come out very, very disappointed.”