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Wrongful death suit filed on behalf of 24-year-old Philly building collapse victim

By Jon Campisi | Sep 3, 2013

In the ongoing legal fallout of this summer’s deadly building collapse in

downtown Philadelphia, the family of a young twentysomething crushed to death in the mishap has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased woman.

Attorneys Steven G. Wigrizer and Jason S. Weiss, of the Philadelphia firm Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller, filed suit this week on behalf of George B. Simpson, the brother of Mary Lea Simpson, who died on June 5 when the Salvation Army thrift store at which she was shopping was crushed by an unsupported wall of an adjacent property that was in the midst of being demolished.

Simpson was one of 19 individuals in the thrift store at the time of the building collapse, the complaint states.

A half-dozen died and 13 were injured in what the suit calls the most “devastating construction tragedy in the history of Philadelphia.

“Of the nineteen people trapped in the rubble, six died agonizing and painful deaths from asphyxiation,” the lawsuit reads. “Mary Lea Simpson was one of those six.”

There are a total of 19 individual defendants named in the complaint, including the Salvation Army; the owner of the building that was being demolished, Richard Basciano; Basciano’s company, STB Investments Corp.; Griffin T. Campbell, the demolition contractor; Sean Benschop, the man behind the controls of the excavator during the time of the demolition; and Plato Marinakos, an architect involved with the project.

Unlike other lawsuits arising from the building collapse, the latest complaint did not name the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections as a defendant.

L&I came under fire in the weeks and months following the collapse from those who contend the department should have done more to ensure the Market Street building was properly prepped for demolition activities.

One L&I worker, building inspector Ronald Waggenhoffer, who was never implicated in any wrongdoing stemming from the construction disaster, tragically took his own life soon after the incident.

Unlike prior lawsuits stemming from the building collapse, the Simpson complaint is billed as the first wrongful death suit relating to the collapse.

Other suits have been filed by victims who were injured in the accident but ended up surviving.

The extremely detailed, 85-page complaint maintains that it was clear from evidence uncovered by plaintiffs’ attorneys and others that in the months leading up to the collapse, it was “highly foreseeable” to all parties involved, including Basciano, his demolition contractor and the Salvation Army, that a construction catastrophe was imminent.

Despite this apparent knowledge, however, the Basciano and his company were able to move forward and secure a demolition permit from the City of Philadelphia.

Additionally, Campbell, the demolition contractor, began demolition work at the 2136-2138 Market Street property this past spring without having obtained a demolition/engineering survey, the suit states.

The complaint alleges that Basciano never notified city officials that demolition would proceed when it did.

Had the city been notified demolition was set to commence, the suit states, a city inspection and site visit would have been triggered.

Like other civil actions that have been filed in the wake of the collapse, the Simpson suit faults various parties for general negligence.

The complaint contains a number of photographs that show the excavator being used to tear down Basciano’s property, which abutted the Salvation Army thrift store.

Engineers were quoted in local news stories that appeared in the days after the collapse saying that a city project such as this should have been taken apart by hand, not machine, because of the sensitivity involving in demolishing a building that is attached to another.

Like the other lawsuits, the Simpson complaint also faults Basciano and his contractor for not bracing the exterior wall that abutted the thrift store in order to prevent the wall’s toppling onto the adjacent building.

The suit says that there was “no lateral bracing of any kind to prevent the wall from collapsing.”

Simpson, the plaintiff’s decedent in the recent complaint, ended up dying a “slow and painful death as a result of asphyxiation,” the complaint states.

The 24-year-old was pronounced dead at 10 p.m. on the day of the collapse, with the cause of death listed as “traumatic compression of torso.”

“Ma[r]y Lea Simpson’s death would have been prevented if not for the negligent, reckless, and outrageous acts of the Defendants,” the suit states.

The complaint contains various counts of negligence, recklessness, outrageous conduct, wrongful death, and survival action.

The plaintiff seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 3 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

No attorneys have yet entered appearances on behalf of the defendants, the docket sheet in the case shows.

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Simpson was a native of Bryn Mawr who graduated from Haverford High School.

The young woman was shopping with a friend at the Salvation Army thrift store when the collapse occurred, the publication reported.

That friend, 24-year-old Ann Bryan, was also killed in the building collapse.

Bryan was the daughter of Philadelphia City Treasurer Nancy Winkler, according to media reports.

Simpson, the Business Journal reported, was a competitive figure skater in high school who went on to receive a college degree in audio media technology.

Benschop, the worker who was operating the excavator at the time of the collapse, is so far the only person to be criminally charged in the catastrophe.

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge recently issued a stay of all civil litigation stemming from the collapse due to a paralleling criminal investigation.


The case ID number is 130900159. 

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