There have now been two wrongful death lawsuits filed arising out of the June building collapse in downtown Philadelphia. The family of Mary Lea Simpson, a 24-year-old woman who was killed, filed the first wrongful death action. Ms. Simpson was shopping in the Salvation Army store when an adjacent building undergoing demolition collapsed and buried the store. Her family has filed suit naming as defendants the Salvation Army, the owner of the collapsed building, the contractor handling the demolition, the architect who expedited the demolition permits, the excavator operator and other parties. Ms. Simpson is the first of the six individuals killed in the collapse whose family has filed a suit. Thirteen other people were reported injured in the collapse. Thus far, 12 personal injury lawsuits have been filed. The complaint in the Simpson case alleges:
The June 5, 2013, Market Street building collapse was the most devastating construction tragedy in the history of Philadelphia. This claim involves the conduct of parties who knew the danger the demolition posed to members of the general public, like Mary Lea Simpson.
The complaint sets out a series of emails and letters between lawyers for the Salvation Army and lawyers for Richard Basciano and STB Investments Corp., owners of the collapsed building, in which Basciano’s representatives warned of the dangers posed by the demolition and in which the Salvation Army was slow to respond. It appears the Salvation Army’s cooperation was being sought on a plan for the details of the demolition. It’s alleged in the complaint that these communications implicate both the owners of the collapsed building as well as the Salvation Army in the tragedy. It’s said that both parties were aware of the risks associated with the demolition.
The complaint also contends that Basciano and STB hired the lowest bidder for the demolition — contractor Griffin Campbell, also named as a defendant — electing to take Campbell’s $112,000 bid although it was significantly lower than any others. The complaint also alleges that Basciano, STB, Campbell and architect Plato Marinakos “lied about the cost of the demolition” on a city of Philadelphia building permit to save money, listing the estimated cost at $10,000. In addition, the complaint sets out the flawed mechanics of the actual demolition process, which did not take place from the top down and allowed walls to stand without lateral bracing, violating U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
The excavator operator, Sean Benschop, used the machine to rip out the floors, which eliminated the lateral stability for the walls. Benschop is currently being held on $1.6 million bail on charges of involuntary manslaughter, recklessly endangering another person, causing a catastrophe, and risking a catastrophe. Campbell, the contractor, who faces potential criminal charges, was able to get the first 11 suits filed over the collapse stayed. He said that he would need to invoke the Fifth Amendment in the civil suits to preserve his rights in the criminal investigation being pursued by a Philadelphia grand jury.
The second wrongful death suit was filed last month by the son of Roseline Conteh, a deceased mother of eight, who was also shopping in the Salvation Army stores when she was killed. As stated, this is the second of the six individuals killed in the collapse whose family has filed a suit. The Conteh family complaint is a mirror image of the complaint filed in the Simpson case. Steven Wigrizer and Jason Weiss, lawyers with the firm of Wapner Newman Wigrizer Brecher & Miller PC, represents both the Simpson and Conteh families. Most likely, there will be more wrongful death lawsuits filed.
Sources: Dan Packel and Law360.com
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