What could possibly make the Surfside
condo collapse even more tragic? A fight over money.
Survivors and heirs are at odds over who is entitled to
what, who is to blame for the collapse that killed 98 people
and how to fairly divide money from insurance, lawsuits and
charitable contributions. It’s an agonizing situation on top
of a horrific one. How do you measure loss of life versus
loss of property? How do you balance those things in a court
of law? When everything about this is unfair, how can there
ever be a just outcome?
In the days after the June 24 disaster, we all watched in anguish as the death count mounted at Champlain Towers South. In adversity and grief, we pulled together — in Miami and far beyond. We talked about the diversity of the occupants of the building, we marveled at “Surfside Strong” and offered heartfelt gratitude for searchers who risked their lives in the wreckage — even as we prayed for miracles.
Mediators try to decide
Six months later, as reported by the Miami Herald, neighbors have turned against neighbors. The debate about dividing up the money has turned ugly, with a judge and mediators being asked to make decisions that no one should have to make. There is some hope of making progress, but there are arguments on both sides that are hard to disregard. Some of those who lost their homes but survived the collapse say the money should be split up by the size of the apartment they lost. Others say the appraisals of the apartments are hundreds of thousands of dollars too low and have asked for a new appraisal. There are hard feelings about the way charitable contributions are being divided, and some relatives of renters who died are blaming owners. One group of family members says surviving condo owners should get nothing and should be held liable for damages because they didn’t maintain the building. The agony — and anger — is palpable. One survivor recounted being plucked from his balcony by a ladder truck. Another said she gets panic attacks on elevators. Raysa Rodriguez told the Herald she helped three people, including her 90-year-old disabled neighbor, and a puppy get out of the building. Now she’s homeless, she said, and doesn’t understand why some of the relatives “want to take every penny from us — and blame us too.” ‘Nothing to negotiate’ For those who lost someone in the collapse, the situation is equally black and white, but with the opposite conclusion. Pablo Langesfeld, the father of a 26-year-old lawyer and newlywed who died with her husband, said there is “nothing to negotiate, nothing to compromise on. All money should go to the relatives of the innocent victims.”
It doesn’t help that some survivors have found themselves renting apartments in a market where rents are becoming ludicrously high. They can’t come close to matching their previous lifestyle in the oceanfront building that fell down. It’s clear that there will never be enough money to compensate for the losses in this case. Lawyers on all sides and the judge overseeing lawsuits in the case have said as much. The pain is too great, the damages too much. But dragging this out for years will only deepen the wounds and entrench the bitterness. In the new year, we wish the lawyers and mediators and judge in this terrible case the wisdom to find a middle ground that will give those left behind some some small measure of peace and, with it, the ability to go on.