$227 million settlement reached in Philadelphia building collapse

$227 million settlement reached in Philadelphia building collapse

2013 collapse killed seven people and injured 12.

February 15, 2017
CDR Staff
Demolition Legislation & Regulations

$227 million in damages will be paid to the 19 plaintiffs – including the loved ones of the seven that died in the June 5, 2013 Salvation Army Family Thrift Store collapse – following what is believed to be the largest personal injury settlement in Pennsylvania history.

Seven people were killed and 12 injured when a towering brick wall from a demolition project crushed an adjacent Salvation Army store in 2013.

According to the report, the two unqualified demolition contractors involved are serving long prison terms. The building owner and his architect were never charged with crimes, and the victims had been seeking damages from both men, along with the Salvation Army.

According to lawyers representing several of the victims and their families, it is the largest negotiated settlement in a personal injury case in Pennsylvania state court history.

Lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi tells the AP the settlement is "a powerful deterrent" to businesses that try to cut corners and put lives at risk. The victims' lawyers also said the city is safer today thanks to reforms initiated after collapse, including tougher rules for obtaining demolition permits.

The settlement was announced Feb. 8, according to trial attorneys Mongeluzzi, Steven G. Wigrizer, Harry M. Roth, Jeffrey P. Goodman, Adam E. Grutzmacher, Jason S. Weiss, and James G. Begley. They collectively represented the seven who died, and half of those who were injured and survived when a four-story building being demolished collapsed onto the adjacent Salvation Army Thrift Store at 22nd & Market Streets. The Salvation Army, New York-based developer Richard Basciano, Plato Marinakos, his local owner's representative, and others were among the defendants in the case.

Testimony in the case established that Basciano's company, STB, had sent five emails – in the weeks before the catastrophe - to the Salvation Army warning of a 'threat to life and limb" and the potential of an 'uncontrolled collapse’".

The Hon. Teresa M. Sarmina, presided over what is believed to be the longest civil trial (nearly six months) in Philadelphia history, along with the 12-person jury and four alternate jurors.

Mongeluzzi and his firm filed the first legal action in the case, the day after the catastrophe, and represented three of those that died (Anne Bryan, 24, Juanita Harmon, 75, and Danny Johnson, 59) and six survivors. He called the settlement, believed to be the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania history, "epic in dimension, fair, just, and, most importantly, a powerful deterrent to all those in any business or organization, at any level, whether they wear a suit or a uniform, who try to cut corners, save a buck, shove safety aside and put human life at risk."

Wigrizer, whose firm represented Mary Simpson, 24, and Roseline Conteh, 52, says, "No amount of money can erase the heartache that comes with the loss of life, but at least this settlement avoids what would certainly have been a future – perhaps years – filled with added pain through the inevitable and seemingly endless appeals process." Weiss, of Wapner Newman, also represented the firm's clients.

Goodman adds, "This settlement sends a message to the Salvation Army and all other business owners that the safety of customers and employees must always come first, and that safety risks can never be ignored." The SMBB legal team also included Andrew R. Duffy and Larry Bendesky.

Nancy Winkler and Jay Bryan, the parents of Anne Bryan, stated after the announcement, "We will never get over Anne's tragic death. This trial, for the first time, shed light on the full story of how and why the collapse – which was so preventable - occurred. We will forever miss Anne, but we will also be eternally grateful for the work of the jury.  They sent a strong message that owners have an absolute duty to protect public safety above all."

Roth, counsel for the estate of Borbor Davis, 68, adds, "The jury was committed to its work in this case and clearly understood after assessing all of the evidence that this was a preventable tragedy; they recognized the utter failures of those who had the best opportunity to prevent the loss of life and limb. The Davis family is grateful for the jury's remarkable service and is pleased by the message their verdict sends to the defendants, and to others engaged in construction and demolition in the city that safety comes first." Mr. Begley, of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, also represented Davis.

Grutzmacher, counsel for the estate of Kimberly Finnegan, remarked that, "June 5, 2013, was Kimberly's first day on the job and, tragically, her last. It is now abundantly clear that her death and that of the others was foreseeable and preventable."

The settlement proceeds will be allocated to the plaintiffs through an arbitration process.

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This article was updated with more details Feb. 17, 2017.