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Judge Holds Off on Attorney Fees in $1B Surfside Condo Collapse

June 23, 2022 | Posted in : Fee Request

A recent Law 360 story by Carolina Bolando, “Toy R Us Wins $1.6M Atty Fees in Failed Toy Pencil IP Suit” reports that the judge overseeing the consolidated litigation over the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, approved a $1.02 billion global settlement on Thursday, but said he would not rule on a $100 million fee request from class counsel until after he had completed the claims process with victims.

In a hearing held one day before the one-year anniversary of the collapse that killed 98, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman commended the attorneys for their dedication to and quick resolution of the case, but said he wanted to wait until he saw how much compensation is needed for victims before ruling on the fee request.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are requesting a lodestar fee amount of about $22 million, multiplied by 4.5 to get to just over $100 million. The judge seemed reluctant to go that high right now, though he said that given what was accomplished in the case, he would consider it.

"I do believe a fee and a multiple should be considered, and I'm not foreclosing it," Judge Hanzman said. "But I want to make clear that going into the case, the tentative bargain struck was that counsel would be paid their lodestar."

Harley Tropin of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, who was co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, told the court that the case required "undivided attention" from the attorneys.

"We had to do a forensic excavation to find causes of negligence," Tropin said. "You had to find these defendants, and you had to do it in record time. It took a toll on these lawyers. It took a lot of time."

Tropin said that the result was far more than what he expected at the start of the case.

"I thought it would be a good day if we got $100 million on top of the insurance proceeds," he said.

In addition to the $1.02 billion from the global settlement, the condominium association's court-appointed receiver also has about $50 million from the association's insurance proceeds and another $120 million that will be coming to the estate once the sale of the property to Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based buyer Damac Properties PJSC closes.

The judge did sign off on a $900,000 fee for Michael Fay of Avison Young, who marketed the property to potential buyers. The fee is 50% of the 1.5% on the sale price that Fay said he would normally take.

Judge Hanzman also offered to provide mediator Bruce Greer, who presided over almost every negotiation with the individual defendants, with some sort of compensation for the time he spent on the case, but he declined.

"I agreed to work pro bono," Greer said. "Whatever fees you were going to allocate to me, allocate them to the victims."

Judge Hanzman will be determining the victims' claims himself and has cleared his schedule for August for hearings on each claim.

At Thursday's hearing, several victims thanked the court and everyone involved for getting the case resolved within the year.

Raysa Rodriguez, who lived in unit 907 and escaped from the building on the night of the collapse, said that the hearings in the case have been exhausting, both emotionally and physically, and she is grateful that it will soon be over.

"I want these souls to just rest," she said. "I want this to be done already."

Eileen Rosenberg, whose daughter Malky died in the collapse, said that when the legal process began, she feared spending "the next decade mired in court proceedings."

"Words cannot capture and convey what your honor accomplished in a record time," she said. "Your honor masterminded a brilliant plan. Your honor's sole focus has been to better the lives of the victims and guide all of us through this process with wisdom and compassion in the most painless way possible within the confines of the judicial system."