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'We’re going try to make something positive happen out of tragedy and take care of these folks'

Patrick Montoya

Patrick Montoya

Veteran Miami attorney Patrick Montoya is on a mission to deliver just compensation to Surfside disaster victims as quickly as possible, and he could use some help.

Montoya’s firm, Colson Hicks Eidson, was appointed “Wrongful Death Charitable Liaison Counsel” in a July 16 order by 11th Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman.

The order, in Manuel Drezner v. Champlain Towers South Condominium Association, Inc., Case No. 2021-015089-CA-01, established a class action leadership structure that includes Colson Hicks Eidson partner Curtis B. Miner, and a handful of other lawyers who all agreed to waive their fees.

“We thought it was the right thing to do,” Montoya said. “And I hope it’s a call to others to answer the charge.”

Judge Hanzman’s order acknowledged that the firms are making a significant contribution.

“The Court notes that all counsel serving in these leadership capacities has agreed to do so on a pro bono basis, with no legal entitlement to receive any attorney’s fees,” the order states. “The court again commends counsel for assuming this weighty responsibility as a public service, recognizing the possibility that they will not be compensated for their time expended in this case.”

Montoya said an immediate concern is that the building’s $48 million in total insurance coverage will likely fall far short of compensating all the victims.

“He’s made it our charge, in his words, to get the money into people’s hands who need it, and do it quickly,” Montoya said.

In a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Hanzman determined that the victims and families who suffered losses will get a minimum of $150 million in compensation, initially. The figure includes the insurance money and expected proceeds from the sale of the property, but not potential recovery from the numerous lawsuits that have already been filed.

But it’s still early, and more sources of potential compensation will likely be identified, he said.

A court appointed receiver has been working to identify all potential parties who could be held liable, including contractors who worked on Champlain Towers South within the past 10 years and a construction company that worked on an adjacent building.

Jorge Silva, a founding partner of Silva and Silva — another volunteer attorney — recently appeared with Montoya on WGN Radio’s “Legal Face-Off.”

“We’re going to embark on a long discovery,” Silva said. “This is all about accountability.”

Nearly a month after the June 24 collapse, while most residents were sleeping, 97 bodies have been recovered and 95 identified. Most of the debris, more than 22 million pounds, has been removed from the scene.

Montoya said part of his charge will be making sure that victims get the legal aid and representation they need to navigate individual as well as class action litigation.

“Anybody that’s not represented we will try to get them a lawyer, we’ve got a dozen lawyers on my roster,” he said. “Everyone should be represented.”

Montoya said it could take six months to a year to determine the cause of the collapse. Meanwhile, the legal research will continue.

“We haven’t even framed up the master pleadings yet,” he said.

Montoya said he considers it a privilege to serve the community during one of its darkest hours.

“I know it sounds like a cliché, but I think if you ask most lawyers why they got into this, they would say, it’s to help people,” he said.

The University of Miami law school grad said representing Surfside victims continues a tradition. His firm was representing 911 victims when he joined it in 2001.

“Look, I got my bar results on September 12 of 2001,” he said. “To me, this is Miami’s 911, it’s the closest thing that we’ve had locally.”

Montoya’s goal is to do more than win just compensation for victims.

“I think this case will move the building codes forward, I think it may and should reform the way condo associations are run,” he said. “We’re going try to make something positive happen out of tragedy and take care of these folks.”

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