A decade and a half after the collapse of a dance floor at the Versailles wedding hall in Jerusalem, which killed 23 people and injured more than 350, the state has announced that it will compensate the victims NIS 120 million ($32 million).
The cash will be distributed among 428 plaintiffs, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported this week.
The state says the payment is not an admission of guilt and that it plans to be repaid by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) and the Standards Institution.
These bodies, along with the state and the Jerusalem district and local planning committees, were among institutions sued for damages in a class action suit brought by those injured in the disaster.
“We welcome the decision to pay damages and we are sorry that the victims had to wait so many years for the state, Jerusalem Municipality, Technion and Standards Institution to agree to take responsibility for the physical and emotional damage caused by the disaster,” attorneys Asaf Posner and Eti Libman-Offaim, who represent the biggest group of victims, told the paper in a statement.
This proposal had already been on the table in 2002, they said, and could have prevented years of suffering and allowed victims to move on. “We hope that if, God forbid, there are other disasters, lessons will have been learned and compensation will be delivered in an appropriate time,” the lawyers said.
According to the deal, those not physically injured in the disaster will get NIS 50,000 ($13,300) plus interest, while those who were hurt will receive NIS 6,000 ($1,600) for every percentage of disability they incurred over 20%.
The sum of NIS 75,000 ($20,000) will be paid into the estates of those who were killed, along with an additional NIS 10,000 ($2,660) for each year of expected decrease in life expectancy brought on by the disaster. When the victims die, NIS 10,000 ($2,660) plus interest will be provided for funeral expenses.
Hundreds of people dancing at the May 2001 wedding of Keren and Asaf Dror plunged three floors when the third floor and parts of the three-story building collapsed.
The 23 dead included the groom’s 80-year-old grandfather and his three-year-old second cousin. The bride suffered serious pelvic injuries that needed surgery.
The subsequent state commission of inquiry headed by the late Jerusalem District Court president Judge Vardi Zeiler found that the Pal-Kal light-weight concrete floor system used at the wedding hall had not been officially approved and did not meet safety standards.
In October 2004, the three owners of Versailles were convicted of causing death by negligence and causing damage by negligence. Two of them were sent to prison for 30 months, while a third was sentenced to four months of community service.
In May 2007, Eli Ron — who developed the Pal-Kal system — received a four-year sentence. Three other engineers involved in the building’s construction were jailed for between six to 22 months.
At a special session five years ago of the Knesset’s House Control Committee to mark 10 years since the Versailles disaster, then State Comptroller’s Office Director-General Shmuel Golan said “Ten years after the disaster and we’re still in a situation where the quality of construction is left largely unchecked,” Ynet reported.
He said that the Zeiler Committee recommendations — which ordered the immediate inspection, sealing off and possible demolition of dozens of building built using the Pal-Kal system — was never fully implemented and that therefore, “we have no way of knowing whether all the buildings built using Pal-Kal were inspected.”
“The entire thing is riddled with indecisiveness and arguments over everything, instead of dealing with the fact that there is a high-risk factor involved here.”
While other buildings have collapsed since then, bringing death in their wake, Versailles is still the worst civil disaster in Israel’s history.
Earlier this month, six people were killed when a four-story parking garage being built in the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Hahayal collapsed on itself.