Surfside families still want answers despite settlement

Gathering at a ceremony Thursday to honor the 98 people who died in a Florida condominium collapse last summer, some of the victims’ families said they are too grieving to contemplate the nearly $1 billion settlement their Lawyers negotiated on his behalf.

Families and local officials gathered at the chain-link fence that surrounds the vacant lot where Champlain Towers South once stood for the unveiling of temporary banners emblazoned with the names and ages of the victims under the heading ‘Fathers, Mothers, Children , daughters, brothers, sisters.” .”

The ceremony came a day after the surprise announcement that a $997 million settlement had been reached in the families’ lawsuit against local officials, developers of an adjacent building and others they hold responsible for the collapse of the 40 year old man. 12-story building next to the beach during the early hours of June 24.

For Ronit Felszer Naibryf, whose 21-year-old son, Ilan Naibryf, died in the collapse, it feels as if she has lost a limb in her death, making it impossible to understand the settlement.

“I’m still processing that loss,” Naibryf said. “Everything else is a bit of noise. That is what it is. I feel that noise, but I don’t really hear anything. It’s looking at people’s mouths, and I really have to look at their lips to understand what they’re saying.”

Pablo Langesfeld, who lost his 26-year-old daughter, Nicole, said the deal “is not for closure (but) it helps.”

“The lawyers did an excellent job,” he said.

Most of Champlain Towers South suddenly collapsed around 1:20 a.m. on June 24 while most of its residents were asleep. Only three people survived the initial collapse. No other survivors were found despite the continued efforts of rescuers who excavated a 40-foot (12-meter) pile of debris for two weeks. Three dozen other people were in the part of the building that was left standing.

Residents and visitors to the condominium formed a melting pot: Orthodox Jews, Latin Americans, Israelis, Europeans, and Snowbirds from the Northeast.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who visited the site daily during the search, said Thursday’s ceremony and banners were to ensure “we will always remember and honor the lives lost.”

Newly elected Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger said the idea for the signs came to him when he was passing the site with his teenage daughter, who had been in the area during the collapse and was trapped in a cloud of dust. Danzinger said he confided in her that driving through the area always makes her sad.

“We wanted to make sure that people driving by or walking by see those names and remember what happened,” he said. A permanent memorial is planned.

The speed and size of the proposed $997 million settlement surprised even Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman, who is presiding over the lawsuit, when it was announced at a hearing Wednesday.

“It’s fantastic,” Hanzman said during the hearing. “This is a recovery that far exceeds what I had anticipated.”

By comparison, the families of the 3,000 victims of 9/11 split $7 billion. The deal still requires final approval and will grow after the building lot is sold at auction later this month. An initial offer of $120 million has already been submitted.

Harley S. Tropin, who represents the Champlain Towers families, credited the judge with setting the conditions that led to the lawsuit’s early conclusion. Instead of letting the lawsuit drag on for four or five years, as is typical in such cases, Hanzman made it clear that this case would go to trial quickly if the parties couldn’t reach a settlement.

“That put enormous pressure on everyone, the plaintiffs and the defendants,” Tropin said Thursday. “This tragedy was unique, and I think the defendants, along with everyone in the courtroom, wanted to see if there was a reasonable way to bring closure to the victims.”

Details of the deal or how it will be distributed have not been disclosed. The defendants include developers, builders and others involved in Eighty Seven Park Condo, the luxury building erected five years ago just south of Champlain South; the company that provided alarms and security systems for Champlain South, which allegedly failed to alert residents; and the town of Surfside.

Residents of Champlain South and families of victims have blamed the vibrations caused by the Eighty Seven Park Condo’s construction for weakening the structural wall that supported their building’s pool deck. The collapse of the platform on June 24 started the cascade of structural failures that ended with the partial collapse of the building seven minutes later.

Eighty Seven Park’s developers insist their building was built safely and played no role in the collapse. His attorney, Michael Thomas, said in a statement that his involvement in the settlement is not an admission of guilt.

“Our clients’ insurers made a business decision to contribute to the overall settlement of this litigation in order to resolve the claims against them and avoid the time, expense and inconvenience of litigation,” Thomas wrote. “The design, development and construction of Eighty Seven Park in no way caused or contributed to the collapse of Champlain Towers South. Hopefully ending this litigation will help bring some closure to the survivors of this tragic event.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is investigating the cause of the collapse, a process expected to take years. The shoddy construction techniques used in the early 1980s when Champlain Towers South was built and the possible lack of proper maintenance by its condominium association over the years are two other areas being explored.

Langesfeld said she won’t even begin to experience emotional closure over her daughter’s death until the investigation is complete.

Even then, the closure might not happen, but “it’s going to be closer when we know who’s to blame,” he said.


Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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