By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer
A major lawsuit in the collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium building that killed 98 people will go to trial in March 2023, a judge said Wednesday.
That’s about six months later than Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman had originally planned, but lawyers in the complex and unusual case said experts need more time to evaluate what caused the 12-story Champlain Towers South building to fall in June 2021.
“That is a firm deadline, ladies and gentlemen,” Hanzman said during a hearing held virtually. “This case will be going to trial in March 2023.”
The collapse of Champlain Towers, located in Surfside, Florida, was one of the worst building disasters in U.S. history. Federal and state agencies are investigating what happened, but likely won’t reach a conclusion for many months.
The main lawsuit filed in November contends that work on an adjacent luxury condo building, known as Eighty Seven Park, damaged and destabilized an aging Champlain Towers building already in dire need of major structural repair.
Lawyers for insurance companies, the adjacent building’s developers and other entities said the initial plan for a September trial date wouldn’t allow engineers and other experts to fully evaluate what happened.
“It will be impossible to try this case in the fall,” said Michael Goldberg, a court-appointed receiver for the Champlain Towers condo association.
The lawsuit contends that excavation, pile-driving and other work at Eighty Seven Park, just across the city line in Miami Beach, between 2016 and 2019 caused vibrations that weakened the shaky structure next door. In addition, groundwater was funneled from the new building to the Champlain Towers basement after developers bought a small road separating the two, the lawsuit says.
The defendants have denied that construction of the 18-story Eighty Seven Park building was responsible for the collapse. They contended in a prior statement that Champlain Towers was “improperly designed, poorly constructed, significantly underfunded and inadequately maintained.”
The property where the now-demolished Champlain Towers South once stood is up for sale with bidding for the prime oceanfront land currently at about $120 million. Plans are also in the works for a nearby memorial to those who perished.
The lawsuit does not demand a specific dollar amount in damages but lawyers say it could run into hundreds of millions of dollars. All of this would go to wrongful death claims and to compensate people who lost their condos and belongings in the collapse.
Hanzman told lawyers not to expect any further delays beyond March of next year.
“This court is not working under some leisurely schedule,” the judge said. “This case will not be continued.”