The legal entanglements and issues arising from the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse at Sunrise, Florida reached a milestone with preliminary approval by the judge overseeing a billion dollar plus recovery for the class of victims. Judge Michael Hanzman held a Saturday hearing and ruled:
1. The terms of the Settlement are within the range of reasonableness and accordingly are preliminarily approved. In addition, this Court finds that certification of the Settlement Class satisfies the requirements of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220, and Class Counsel and the Settlement Class Representatives fairly and adequately represent the interests of the Settlement Class. This preliminary approval is subject to further consideration at the Final Approval Hearing.
2. For the reasons set forth below, subject to final approval, this Court hereby preliminarily certifies the following Settlement Class:
all (a) Unit Owners, (b) Invitees, (c) Residents, (d) persons that died or sustained a personal injury (including emotional distress) as a result of the CTS Collapse, (e) persons or entities that suffered a loss of or damage to real property or personal property, or suffered other economic loss, as a result of the CTS Collapse, (f) Representative Claimants, and (g) Derivative Claimants.
3. Excluded from the Settlement Class is any Unit Owner, Resident, Invitee, Representative Claimant, Derivative Claimant, or other person or entity otherwise included in the Settlement Class, who timely and properly exercises the right to exclude himself, herself, or itself from the Settlement Class
4. The Court hereby appoints Harley S. Tropin and Javier A. Lopez of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton LLP; Rachel W. Furst and Stuart Z. Grossman of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, P.A.; Ricardo M. Martínez-Cid of Podhurst Orseck, P.A.; Adam M. Moskowitz of The Moskowitz Law Firm, PLLC; Curtis B. Miner of Colson Hicks Eidson, P.A., John Scarola of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A.; Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky; Shannon del Prado of Pita Weber & Del Prado; Jorge E. Silva of Silva & Silva, P.A.; Willie E. Gary of Gary Williams Parenti Watson & Gary, PLLC; Gonzalo R. Dorta of Gonzalo R. Dorta, P.A.; Judd G. Rosen of Goldberg & Rosen, P.A.; MaryBeth LippSmith of LippSmith LLP; Luis E. Suarez of Heise Suarez Melville, P.A.; John H. Ruiz of MSP Recovery Law Firm; William F. “Chip” Merlin, Jr. of the Merlin Law Group and Bradford R. Sohn of The Brad Sohn Law Firm as Settlement Class Counsel.
5. The Court finds that, for purposes of this agreed settlement class only, the class certification prerequisites set forth in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220 have been met for the purpose of the certification of a settlement class. By so doing, the Court does not take a position as to whether the class is appropriate for class certification in the event that the settlement does not become final and the issue of class certification is contested. This finding is without prejudice to the Settling Parties’ right to contest class certification if this Settlement does not become final.
6. At the Final Approval Hearing, the Court will consider whether the terms of the Settlement Agreement are fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of the Settlement Class, and whether final orders and judgments in accordance with the terms of the Settlement Agreement should be entered….
Why preliminary? All class action lawsuits have a “fairness hearing” before final approval. Those interested or impacted by the proposed settlement can object to any number of provisions of the settlement. That hearing will take place next month. The Notices of the Proposed Settlement are sent to anybody who is known to be interested and publicly published.
While reflecting on why this case has moved so quickly and what we can do to move along first-party property cases more quickly, the judge in the Champlain Towers case demonstrated leadership, common sense, and a tone of urgency for those involved to take action. He was quoted as saying “The case, without a doubt, will be the most challenging of my career legally and emotionally.” Assuming that the settlement will be approved, he certainly rose to the occasion.
Whatever his training and skill sets Judge Hanzman has can be learned from and taught to other judges and others with dispute resolution responsibilities. Disclosures and important discovery took place quickly. There was no tolerance for delay. We even held an emergency hearing on July 4. That was a first for me.
Regarding appraisals, I would suggest that those teaching Umpires how to take the lead and finish appraisals more quickly study and teach the same practices from Hanzman that move the appraisal process along much quicker.
Thought For The Day
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.
—Leonardo da Vinci