First Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Philly Building Collapse

Construction accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that the first wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed in Philadelphia after a building collapse killed six people and trapped nearly 20 others. The family’s lawsuit names the Salvation Army, where the deceased woman was shopping at the time, as well as the building owner and his contractors as defendants.

A building undergoing demolition collapsed into the Salvation Army in Philadelphia in June 2013 when a high brick wall was left unsupported. One of the victims, 24-year-old Mary Lea Simpson, was dropping off clothes and shopping with a friend at the time of the collapse. The family is citing blatant negligence on the part of the building’s owner and contractors, stating that even children playing with building blocks understand that if a wall is left unsupported, and you subject it to vibrations and movement, it is going to fall.

The building owner, Richard Basciano, was sued in a similar incident in 1997 after a Philadelphia judge was killed when a garage collapsed onto a sidewalk. Legal experts assert that Basciano and his contractors have clearly demonstrated a history of poor decision-making and pattern of professional negligence. The wrongful death lawsuit blames the contractors, Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop, for devising and enacting an unsafe demolition plan and beginning work on the building before they had permits to do so.

Along with Basciano and the contractors, Simpson’s family is also blaming Salvation Army for her death, stating that the store should have closed during demolition work. At the time of the collapse Basciano was attempting to redevelop a shady block of Philly’s business district on Market Street. Basciano, who was once dubbed the ‘porn king’ of Times Square, was in arguments with the Salvation Army over access to the area above the store. He wanted to use the Army’s area to remove the four-story brick wall, the one that ultimately fell, by hand, as is common practice in the industry.

Negotiations between the two parties stalled, however, even as the imminent risk of the large, unsupported brick wall was made public. Basciano’s own lawyers told the Salvation Army that the four-story wall posed immense threat to life, limb and safety, according to the StarTribune. On May 20, 2013, a Salvation Army architect found the wall and its surrounding structures to be safe and stable and the Salvation Army was told no additional structural demolition would begin until the negotiations were complete.

A video shot on June 2, 2013, however, showed an excavator tearing down part of the adjacent structure. The wall collapsed just a few days later, on June 5 around 10:45 a.m. An investigation prompted by the criminal grand jury is currently underway into the ordeal after one of the more seriously injured survivors filed a lawsuit in late August 2013.

The survivor, 52-year-old Mariya Plekan lost both legs in the collapse and spent nearly 13 hours trapped underneath the fallen bricks. About 18 other people were trapped at the time, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed that five women and one man died in the collapse. Rescuers used buckets and their bare hands to remove the bricks and rubble from the area, working throughout the day and into the night. Community members stated they knew the building was going to collapse because of the methods the contractors were using, leaving walls up with no braces and merely kicking bricks from the top of the structure. Thick clouds of dust immediately enveloped the area after the collapse, making it hard for witnesses to breathe or see immediately in front of them.

Construction accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of those injured in work and construction zones, whether as an employee or pedestrian. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a construction incident, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to financial compensation for your medical bills and lost wages through a lawsuit against the negligent parties.

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