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Divvying up the nearly $1 billion Surfside condo settlement

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Now that there's a $1 billion deal to pay families after last year's condominium building collapse in Surfside, Fla., the task turns to dividing the money. From member station WLRN, Veronica Zaragovia reports on the somber and difficult job of figuring out how to compensate for a life.

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: The 98 victims ranged in age from 1 to 92 years old. Brad Sohn’s law firm filed the first class-action lawsuit after the collapse. Eventually, the court appointed him and many other attorneys to represent all of the victims. It's complicated. He says, for instance, someone who died that was a family's sole provider will likely get paid more than other victims.

BRAD SOHN: Than, say, the survivors of a very elderly person who was no longer working and no longer supporting a family, not that it's not a tragedy unto itself.

ZARAGOVIA: He says, all these deaths are tragic, but the way each person's life is valued can cause tension.

SOHN: Are the family members, let's say, young children who are parentless? Or are they adults who, you know, essentially are fully self-sufficient? Ultimately, any settlement amount or monetary award to a compensation fund is going to be driven by doing one's best guess at what a jury would be likely to award.

ZARAGOVIA: Kenneth Feinberg has made his best guess many times. He was in charge of the compensation fund for victims of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. He says making distinctions based on wealth is difficult. Was someone a nanny or a banker?

KENNETH FEINBERG: You promote the very divisiveness you're trying to avoid. Calculating different values for each life is the majority view in every court in Florida, in every court in the nation. All lives are not equal.

ZARAGOVIA: He held hundreds of hearings with family members to come up with an amount for them. He says the Surfside victims in Florida should have that chance, too.

FEINBERG: You have to give people who want the opportunity, you have to give them an opportunity to be heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

ZARAGOVIA: Pablo Rodriguez wants to be heard about his mother, Elena Blasser, and his grandmother, Elena Chavez, who both died in the building collapse.

PABLO RODRIGUEZ: I have a very hard time after all these interviews. I just sit in my room. My wife takes my son (ph). I need time just to recompose myself. But it's very important, I feel, that their stories get told, people don't forget and hopefully something happens to prevent this from occurring again.

ZARAGOVIA: A federal investigation continues into what caused the collapse, but he says no amount of money will make this OK.

RODRIGUEZ: It's a little conflicting because they all agree that they'll make the payment, but they're not going to admit any fault or any liability for 98 people losing their lives.

ZARAGOVIA: Pablo Rodriguez and the other families will soon have to fill out a claims form making the case about their loved ones and how much they were worth. They'll also be able to tell their stories in person. The judge wants families to receive their portion of the billion-dollar settlement by September. For NPR News, I'm Veronica Zaragovia in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.