Judge Overseeing Surfside Collapse Case Worried Survivors Won't Get Enough Insurance Money

The judge overseeing the Surfside collapse case is concerned there won't be enough money from insurance payouts and the proposed sale of the Champlain Towers property to fully compensate victims for their claims.

"There will likely not be enough to compensate everyone for what their claims may be," Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said.

Hanzman also warned attorneys that any claims put forward should be complete and ironclad. "I'm not interested in 'hail Mary' claims."

The claims for all tenants are likely to be consolidated into a single class action lawsuit that will be filed in mid-August.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Surfside collapse memorial
A judge said he is concerned there won't be enough insurance money to settle the claims of all survivors of the Surfside condo collapse. People visit a makeshift memorial where the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building stood in Surfside, Florida on July 24, 2021. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Preservation of evidence is critical to understanding why a Florida oceanfront condominium collapsed and to protect the legal rights of victims and others, Hanzman said Wednesday.

Miami-Dade County is expected later this month to hand over control of the Champlain Towers South site to a court-appointed receiver. That receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg, said discussions are ongoing regarding how experts such as engineers will gain access to the property and the building's steel-and-concrete remains, some of which are stored in a local warehouse.

"We are not going to be delaying this," Hanzman said at a hearing. "Everyone will have the opportunity to do the investigations they need. We don't want to be in the position of being accused of spoiling evidence."

The 12-story condominium building in Surfside collapsed for unknown reasons on June 24, killing 98 people and leaving dozens more homeless. The cause of the collapse, one of the deadliest of its kind in U.S. history, is still under investigation.

The hearing conducted remotely Wednesday concerned lawsuits filed by family members of victims, unit owners, mortgage holders and others seeking damages for their losses.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said access to evidence by experts could help officials avert similar building disasters by understanding what happened at Champlain Towers South.

"It has to be done a lot sooner than later. There are lives at stake," Burkett said.

One survivor, Sharon Schechter, said she barely escaped from her unit on the 11th floor but raised concerns at the hearing that renters such as herself might be left with little or nothing despite losing their possessions.

"I don't know where I stand. I lost everything I had," Schechter told the judge. "Everything was working great and then my life was turned upside down."

Hanzman said Schechter and other tenants will have a claim for their losses as the lawsuits move forward.

Another hearing was scheduled for next Wednesday.

Judge Hanzman
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said victims and families who suffered losses in the collapse of the 12-story oceanfront Florida condominium will get a minimum of $150 million in compensation initially. Hanzman speaks during a hearing, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Miami, at which tenants shared their thoughts regarding the future of the site of the Champlain Towers South building that collapsed in Surfside, Fla. Carle Juste/Miami Herald via AP, Pool