Philadelphians sue over damage to homes caused by school construction

Jon Campisi Jan. 25, 2012, 10:24am

Three Philadelphia residents have filed separate civil actions in state court against the Philadelphia Board of Education and one of the school district’s contractors, alleging their respective properties were damaged during the construction of a new school building six years ago.

Philadelphia lawyer Jonathan Wheeler filed the complaints Jan. 23 on behalf of James Sinclair, Deborah E. Royster and Kathleen Smith.

Sinclair and Smith reside on Tasker Street while Royster lives on South 32nd Street.

In addition to the school board, the Narberth, Pa.-based Daniel J. Keating Company is named as a defendant in the civil action.

Each plaintiff was a member of a punitive class in a class action commenced by Martha Holman and Faye Williams in April 2009, but class certification was denied by Common Pleas Court Judge Gary F. DiVito in July 2011, according to court papers.

Nevertheless, each of the three separate complaints contain virtually identical allegations.

According to the litigation, Keating commenced the demolition of a former school building on the 3300 block of Tasker Street in Southwest Philadelphia back in October 2006.

This was followed by the construction of a new school building that opened to students in September 2008.

When demolition began in 2006, a task force on behalf of the Audenreid High School Community Council was formed at the behest of the Philadelphia School Improvement Team, which acted on behalf of the board of education.

During a community council meeting in the fall of 2006, a school improvement team member promised the plaintiffs that all claims for damages to their homes as a result of construction would be taken care of by the school district once the construction of the new school building was complete, the litigation states.

“In reliance on this representation,” the lawsuits state, the plaintiffs held off on filing any claims for damages to their respective homes.

During the construction period, the plaintiffs allegedly suffered various amounts of damage to their homes, all of which was the result of “excessive vibrations arising from the construction activities,” and “occasioned by the negligence” of the defendants, according to the litigation.

The lawsuits accuse the defendants of failing to minimize the vibrations created through the use of heavy equipment and construction techniques, failing to utilize access routes to the construction site that would have minimized vibration to the plaintiffs’ homes, and employing individuals and subcontractors who were “unskilled or not properly supervised or trained.”

The lawsuits state that the control and maintenance of real property, including the Audenreid High School, is one of the enumerated exceptions to the immunities granted to the Philadelphia Board of Education under the Municipal Subdivisions Tort Claims Act.

Each plaintiff demands judgment against the two defendants in a sum not in excess of $50,000, together with interest and related court costs.

The case ID numbers are 120102729, 120102731 and 120102740.

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