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Judge approves billion-dollar payout for Florida building collapse victims

The site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
The site where the Champlain Towers South collapsed (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

A judge has given final approval to a settlement topping 1 billion dollars (£791m) for victims of the collapse of a Florida beachfront building that killed 98 people.

The decision by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman came a day before the one-year anniversary of the Champlain Towers South disaster in the Miami suburb of Surfside.

The judge praised the dozens of lawyers involved for averting what could have been years of litigation with no sure outcome.

“It will never be enough to compensate them for the tragic loss they have suffered,” the judge said. ”This settlement is the best we can do. It’s a remarkable result. It is extraordinary.”

The bulk of the 1.02 billion dollar total will go to people who lost family members in the collapse of the 12-storey building. About 100 million dollars is earmarked for legal fees, and 96 million set aside for owners who lost one of the 136 units in the building.

Building Collapse Florida
A beach-goer takes a photo of a banner showing the names of victims (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

No victims filed objections to the settlement or decided to opt out, said court-appointed receiver Michael Goldberg.

Several people who lost family members or property said in court that they are grateful for such a swift conclusion to a horrific experience.

Raysa Rodriguez, who survived the collapse in a ninth-floor unit that was initially left intact, had nothing but praise for the outcome.

“You have no idea what a relief this is to me personally,” Ms Rodriguez said. “I am so exhausted. I just want this to be done. I want these souls to rest.”

The ruling came during what is called a fairness hearing, in which anyone with objections to the deal could raise them as the judge determined whether the settlement is “fair, reasonable and adequate”, according to court documents.

The money comes from several sources, including insurance companies, engineering firms and a luxury condominium whose recent construction next door is suspected of contributing to structural damage of Champlain Towers South. None of the parties admit any wrongdoing.

A billionaire developer from Dubai is set to purchase the 1.8-acre beachside site for 120 million dollars, contributing to the settlement.

Champlain Towers South had a long history of maintenance problems and questions have been raised about the quality of its original construction and inspections in the early 1980s.

Other possible factors include sea level rise caused by climate change and damage caused by salt water intrusion.

A final conclusion on the cause is likely years away. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is leading the federal probe in to the collapse, recently said invasive testing will begin soon on samples of material from the collapse site.

The tests will help investigators find potential flaws in structural elements of the building by looking into things such as density of the materials, how porous they were and if there was corrosion.

Florida will require statewide recertification of condominiums more than three stories tall under new legislation signed into law last month in response to the disaster.

The death toll in the Champlain Towers collapse ranks among the highest in US history among similar disasters. The 1981 Hyatt Regency walkway collapse killed 114 people and a Massachusetts mill disaster in 1860 killed between 88 and 145 workers.