Insurer: no duty to indemnify demolition contractor in deadly Philly building collapse case

By Jon Campisi | Aug 12, 2013

An insurance company is seeking declaratory judgment that it doesn’t have to indemnify

An insurance company is seeking declaratory judgment that it doesn’t have to indemnify

a demolition contractor for claims relating to the deadly Philadelphia building collapse in June that claimed the lives of six people, and hurt 13 others.

Iowa-based Berkley Assurance Company filed suit at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court on Aug. 5 against Griffin Campbell and his contracting firm, Campbell Construction, seeking to have a judge declare that the insurer is not responsible for covering Campbell in litigation arising from the June 5 collapse in Center City.

The collapse occurred after an unsupported wall that was being taken down by a sub-contractor working with Campbell’s firm collapsed onto an adjacent building housing a Salvation Army thrift shop.

The accident, which made national news, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and, at this point, one criminal case.

Campbell, who has been named as a defendant in negligence and wrongful death suits filed by victims of the collapse, as well as survivors of those who lost their lives during the incident, was not covered by Berkley at the time of the collapse because his insurance policy had lapsed due to nonpayment, the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Campbell Construction entered into an insurance agreement with the plaintiff by which he would pay $2,453.09 per month, with the first premium due on April 6 of this year.

No installment payments were ever made, however, and the insurer canceled the policy on May 1, the suit states, meaning Campbell was not covered on the day of the Market Street building collapse.

The Berkley suit identifies a handful of other civil actions that have been filed at Common Pleas Court in the wake of the building collapse, many of which name Campbell and his demolition firm as defendants.

In addition to the claim that Campbell’s insurance policy was not in effect at the time of the collapse, Berkley also alleges that Campbell made inaccurate or false statements on his application for insurance coverage.

An example given by the insurer was the statement Campbell made saying his firm was a limited liability company, and that Campbell had been in business for 10 years.

In a bankruptcy filing, however, Campbell identified himself as a “self-employed” contractor who had been in business for two years, according to the complaint.

Campbell also stated on the application that he had not been indicted for, or convicted of, any crimes relating to fraud, bribery, arson or other arson-related crimes, when media reports reflect that Campbell pleaded guilty in the spring of 2009 to having filed a false insurance claim, the suit states.

Campbell also said in his application that he hadn’t filed for bankruptcy during the previous five years, but in reality the defendant filed for personal bankruptcy protection in both 2010 and this year, according to the complaint, which cites bankruptcy records.

The suit further notes that “Griffin Campbell dba Campbell Construction LLC” nor “Campbell Construction LLC” are named in any of the suits relating to the building collapse.

The lawsuit names additional defendants, including Richard Basciano, the owner of the property that was being demolished, as well as his company, STB Investments Corp.

A handful of building collapse victims were also named as defendants, although it wasn’t immediately clear why they were singled out as defendants in the Berkley litigation.

It appears they were named because they are seeking monetary damages due to their injuries and/or losses because of the construction accident.

The suit says that the victim defendants were added to the litigation pursuant to a 1986 civil case titled Vale Chemical Co. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co.

Gale White, of the firm White and Williams, who, along with lawyer Anthony L. Miscioscia is representing the plaintiff, did not respond to an email from the Pennsylvania Record seeking clarification on the addition of the victim defendants to the Berkley suit.

Meanwhile, Sean Benschop, the worker who sat at the wheel of the excavator when the building collapse occurred, has been the only one criminally charged in the incident.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has charged Benschop with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and causing and risking a catastrophe.

Benschop’s wife recently reached out to local media to say she believes that her husband is being held out as a scapegoat in the case, since, as she contends, many were likely at fault for the unfortunate collapse.


The case ID number is 130800129.

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