Lawyers for victims of a deadly Philadelphia building collapse that crushed a Salvation Army thrift store in 2013 have reached a record $227 million settlement with the owner of a New York real estate company and the Salvation Army.
The Feb. 22 settlement concludes a civil trial of lawsuits that ran that for more than 17 weeks, the longest civil trial in Philadelphia history, according to Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, who oversaw the litigation. An attorney for plaintiffs in the case said the settlement was the largest personal injury settlement in Pennsylvania state court history, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
An unidentified source told the Inquirer that the Salvation Army will pay $200 million of the settlement and the rest will come from Richard Basciano and his company STB Investments Corp.
The plaintiffs accused STB and Mr. Basciano of ignoring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) law requiring a proper engineering survey for the demolition job and for failing to follow OSHA safety requirements governing demolition work.
For instance, according to the lawsuit, the demolition was being performed from the top down and the crew removed the building’s front section before its roof, which allowed the walls to stand without lateral bracing and eventually to cave in.
Although the Salvation Army’s thrift store was crushed as a result of the poor demolition, plaintiffs argued that the charitable organization ignored warnings that the Hoagie City building being demolished next door was at risk of imminent collapse.
Salvation Army officers testified that they did not heed the warnings from one of Mr. Basciano’s top aides “because of his penchant for exaggeration,” The Inquirer reported.
Defendant Plato A. Marinakos Jr., a Center City architect hired by Mr. Basciano to monitor the demolition work, has not been ordered to contribute to the settlement. According to The Inquirer, “Marinakos, 50, who federal court records show emerged from bankruptcy in 2012, the year before the collapse, is believed to have exhausted his liability insurance coverage.”
North Philadelphia demolition contractor Griffin Campbell and his excavator operator, Sean Benschop, will also pay none of the damages. Mr. Campbell, 52, and Mr. Benschop, 45, were both sentenced to long prison terms for their role in the disaster and are unable to contribute to the settlement.
The $227 million will be divided among the families of the seven people who were killed and 12 who were injured when the Salvation Army thrift store was crushed.
According to The Inquirer, the lion’s share of the settlement will likely go to Mariya Plekan, a Ukranian immigrant who barely survived the disaster. Ms. Plekan, who was 52 at the time, was so severely injured that physicians had to surgically amputate the entire lower half of her body. She has also undergone 30 surgeries, battled kidney failure and lung problems, lost her ability to speak, and is confined to an electric wheelchair.
Source: The (Philadelphia) Inquirer