First lawsuit filed over deadly Philadelphia building collapse

By Jon Campisi | Jun 10, 2013

The first lawsuit has been filed in the wake of last week’s deadly building collapse in

The first lawsuit has been filed in the wake of last week’s deadly building collapse in

downtown Philadelphia, an incident that claimed the lives of six people who had been inside of a Salvation Army thrift store that was crushed by an adjacent structure in the midst of being demolished.

Philadelphia personal injury attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, considered one of the preeminent construction accident lawyers in the nation, filed a civil action at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Nadine White, a city woman who was found buried beneath the rubble created during the collapse of a building at the corner of 22nd and Market Streets in Center City.

The negligence suit, which was filed on June 6, the same day of the accident, names as defendants Richard Basciano, the owner of the 2136 Market Street building that collapsed on top of the thrift shop; Basciano’s company, STB Investments Corp.; Griffin T. Campbell, the demolition contractor who had been hired to tear down the vacant structure; and Campbell’s firm, Griffin Campbell Construction.

White was one of 13 people injured, but not killed, during the early morning building collapse in bustling downtown Philadelphia.

The construction accident, which made national headlines, claimed the lives of six people.

The office of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter released the names of the deceased as follows: Kimberly Finnegan, Borbor Davis, Juanita Harmin, Mary Simpson, Anne Bryan and Roseline Conteh.

News outlets have reported that Bryan, 24, was the daughter of Philadelphia City Treasurer Nancy Winkler, and a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at the time of her death.

White, the plaintiff in the first lawsuit over the construction accident, is a clerk for the Salvation Army who was working in the thrift store at the time the neighboring building collapsed.

Mongeluzzi, White’s attorney, was quoted in local media as saying the building collapse was the “most egregious construction accident I think I’ve ever been involved in.”

Mongeluzzi was also involved in litigation stemming from the deadly duck boat incident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia back in the summer of 2010 that took the lives of two young Hungarian tourists.

The tourist vessel had been struck by a sludge barge when the amphibious vehicle became stranded in the river’s shipping channel.

The Pennsylvania Record previously reported on the duck boat litigation.

In addition to filing suit on behalf of White last week, Mongeluzzi filed an emergency petition seeking to have the courts order the accident site preserved so he and his team could examine the area during the early stages of the litigation.

On June 7, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler granted the plaintiff’s motion, writing that counsel and experts would have the right to “inspect, photograph and video record the demolition of the area of the subject collapse” beginning on June 8, but only from a “safe distance and in a manner that does not impede any ongoing investigation.”

The deadly incident is currently being investigated by the city’s fire and police departments, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to Mayor Nutter’s office.

In a statement issued by his office late last week, Nutter said the city mourns those who were killed in the incident, saying “our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of the deceased. I ask all Philadelphians to remember those who perished and their families in their prayers and thoughts.”

In all, 13 people were injured in the building collapse, including plaintiff Nadine White.

All of the injured had been either working or shopping in the single-story thrift store at the time it was crushed by the neighboring four-story structure.

As for the litigation, Ceisler, the judge, ordered the defendants to preserve all documents relating to the demolition project including all permits, engineering surveys, demolition plans, shoring plans, site surveys, deeds, property records, applications and other related documents.

Ceisler ruled that once the site is deemed safe, the remaining debris should be left at the location to be examined, inspected, photographed, and video recorded by the attorneys and their experts during an agreed upon two-day period.

White, the plaintiff in the case, who is a 54-year-old mother of three, was reportedly one of the first victims rescued by emergency personnel after the building collapse.

The complaint accuses the various defendants of negligence and gross recklessness for their alleged respective roles in the deadly construction accident.

STB Investments, the property owner and a co-defendant in the suit, released a statement to local media late last week that said the following: “Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the people affected by this tragic event. Please know that we are committed to working with the City of Philadelphia and other authorities to determine what happened …”

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported that 42-year-old Sean Benschop, who had been operating the excavator machine during the demolition of the building that collapsed, was expected to face charges including risking and causing a catastrophe, both felonies, and involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor.

The paper also reported that toxicology tests showed Benschop, who also goes by the alias Kary Roberts, had marijuana in his system at the time of the incident.

The White case ID number is 130600987.

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