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Summer lawsuit trial seen in deadly Florida condo collapse

The Associated Press
Summer lawsuit trial seen in deadly Florida condo collapse

SURFSIDE, FLA.—A summer trial is likely for lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages from the collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium that killed 98 people, a judge said Wednesday.

The timeframe for a trial to begin would be July or August, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing. He added that he won’t look with favour on delays.

“I’m not granting extensions or continuances. Not in this case,” Hanzman said. “Come next summer, we’re going to be picking a jury in this case. It’s not going to go beyond that.”

The lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the 12-storey Champlain Towers South collapse on June 24 in Surfside seek to affix blame and collect money for the victims, family members and property owners.

The collapse came as the building was undergoing its 40-year recertification, which likely meant steep assessments for condo owners to finance structural and other problems identified several years earlier.

One potential class-action case that could resolve the entire legal matter was filed last month, contending that excavation and construction of a luxury building next door worsened serious structural defects that already existed at Champlain Towers South.

The developers and others involved in construction of the adjacent 18-storey Eighty Seven Park tower who are listed as defendants deny their construction work contributed to the tragedy.

Hanzman said he would probably set a firm summer trial date in January. It’s also possible the case could be settled before a trial is held.

A mediator is working to figure out how to allocate lawsuit damages, insurance proceeds and land sale money between wrongful death victims and those who lost only property. The land where the condo once stood could sell for $120 million or more once all bids have been received.

“We have been working nonstop to resolve these issues,” said Judd Rosen, a lawyer for one group of victims.

“Nothing would make the court happier,” Hanzman said.

Meanwhile, investigations into the cause of the collapse are ongoing and will be augmented by work of experts hired to collect evidence for lawsuits.

The lead investigating agency, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, recently estimated its probe could take as long as two years.

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