The legal entanglements and issues arising from the Champlain Towers South condominium collapse at Sunrise, Florida reached a milestone with the preliminary approval of the judge who oversaw a billion dollars plus recovery for the class of victims. Judge Michael Hanzman held a hearing on Saturday and ruled:
1. The terms of the settlement are within the reasonable range and are therefore provisionally approved. In addition, this Court finds that the certification of the conciliation class meets the requirements of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1,220, and that class lawyers and the representatives of the conciliation class represent the interests of the conciliation class in a fair and adequate manner. This preliminary approval is subject to further consideration at the final approval hearing.
2. For the reasons set out below, subject to final approval, this Court hereby provisionally certifies the following settlement classes:
all (a) unit owners, (b) invited, (c) residents, (d) persons who died or sustained personal injury (including emotional suffering) as a result of the CTS collapse, (e) persons or entities affected by a loss; of or damage to real property or personal property, or suffered other financial loss, as a result of the CTS collapse, (f) Representative Claimants and (g) Derivative Claimants.
3. Excluded from the conciliation class is any unit owner, resident, invited, representative creditor, derived creditor or other person or entity otherwise included in the conciliation class, who in a timely and correct manner exercises the right to exclude himself, himself or himself from the conciliation class
4. The Court hereby designates Harley S. Tropin and Javier A. Lopez of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton LLP; Rachel W. Furst and Stuart Z. Grossman of Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen, PA; Ricardo M. Martínez-Cid of Podhurst Orseck, PA; Adam M. Moskowitz of The Moskowitz Law Firm, PLLC; Curtis B. Miners from Colson Hicks Eidson, PA, John Scarola from Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, PA; Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky; Shannon del Prado from Pita Weber & Del Prado; Jorge E. Silva of Silva & Silva, PA; Willie E. Gary of Gary Williams Parenti Watson & Gary, PLLC; Gonzalo R. Dorta of Gonzalo R. Dorta, PA; Judd G. Rosen of Goldberg & Rosen, PA; MaryBeth LippSmith from LippSmith LLP; Luis E. Suarez of Heise Suarez Melville, PA; John H. Ruiz of MSP Recovery Law Firm; William F. “Chip”; Merlin, Jr. from Merlin Law Group and Bradford R. Sohn from Brad Sohn Law Firm as the Settlement Lawyer.
5. The Court finds that, only for this agreed conciliation class, the class certification requirements set forth in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220 have been met for the certification of a conciliation class. As a result, the court does not rule on whether the class is suitable for class certification in the event that the settlement does not become final and the issue of class certification is disputed. This finding does not affect the right of the parties to the dispute to contest class certification if this settlement does not become final.
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 conciliation class, and whether final decisions and judgments in accordance with the terms of the settlement agreement should be concluded …
I have attached the order, proposed settlement and notice thereof.
Why preliminary? All class actions have a “reasonableness hearing” before the final approval. Those who are interested or influenced by the proposed settlement can object to any number of provisions in the settlement. That hearing will take place next month. The notices of the proposed settlement are sent to anyone known to be interested and are made public.
While the judge in the Champlain Towers case reflected on why this case has gone so fast and what we can do to proceed with first-party real estate cases, the judge showed leadership, common sense and an urgent tone for those involved to take action. He was quoted as saying “The case will undoubtedly be the most challenging in my career both legally and emotionally.” Assuming the settlement is approved, he really rose.
Regardless of his education and skills, Judge Hanzman can learn from and be taught to other judges and others responsible for dispute resolution. Revealing and important discoveries happened quickly. There was no tolerance for delays. We even held an emergency hearing on July 4th. It was the first time for me.
When it comes to assessments, I would suggest that those who teach judges how to take the lead and finish assessments faster study and teach the same methods from Hanzman that move the assessment process much faster.
I have been impressed by how urgent it is. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we have to do.
-Leonardo Da Vinci