Wrongful death claim filed on behalf of Phila. building collapse victim who was daughter of city treasurer

By Jon Campisi | Sep 19, 2013

With a 19-member defendant list and a page count pushing 130, the

wrongful death suit filed this week on behalf of the parents of a 24-year-old art student killed in June’s deadly building collapse in downtown Philadelphia appears to be by far the largest in terms of size and scope out of the suits filed in the wake of the Market Street construction incident.

Attorneys from the Philadelphia plaintiff’s firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky filed suit on Sept. 17 at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court on behalf of Nancy Winkler and her husband, John Bryan, over the death of their daughter, Anne Bryan, one of six people killed on June 5 when an unsupported wall from a property that was being demolished crushed the roof of an adjacent thrift shop operated by the Salvation Army.

In addition to the six killed, more than a dozen others – store workers, shoppers and passersby – were seriously maimed in what the plaintiff’s firm has called one of the worst construction tragedies in Philadelphia history.

The lengthy complaint collectively faults the Salvation Army, developer Richard Basciano, the demolition contractor hired to remove Basciano’s building, and a host of others over the alleged failures that led to the building collapse.

Anne Bryan, who lived near the Center City Salvation Army thrift store, and went with a friend on June 5 to shop for clothes that they could in turn donate to the needy, was unaware that Basciano, the owner of the building that was being demolished, had warned the Salvation Army in the prior weeks of the possibility of an “uncontrolled collapse” that would likely result in “headlines none of us want to see or read,” according to the plaintiff’s firm.

Bryan died about 12 hours after being crushed in the rubble.

Mongeluzzi, a well-respected construction accident attorney who has secured large dollar figures for victims of similar types of incidents in the past, said he filed the latest suit after an “extensive investigation” on behalf of Bryan’s estate.

Winkler, Anne Bryan’s mother, serves as the treasurer of the City of Philadelphia, while her husband, John Bryan, is a structural engineer by trade.

“The mountain of facts, including eyewitness photos, invoices for a boom lift never rented, chilling email traffic between the defendants in the weeks and days leading up to the fatal collapse, are indisputable proof that defendants knew about the extreme danger ‘to life and limb,’ talked about the extreme danger, but chose to do nothing to prevent the very tragedy their emails predicted,” Mongeluzzi said in a statement. “There is no doubt that an inexcusable series of demolition safety breaches led to the death of Anne Bryan and five other innocent victims and serious injuries to the survivors.”

The attorney said that the team from STB Investments, the company owned by developer Basciano, including Basciano’s New York-based property manager and the developer’s local architect and expediter, along with officials representing the Salvation Army, “engaged in a lengthy, deadly game of chicken regarding the demolition without regard to the likely consequences.”

Mongeluzzi stated that human life was secondary to “material interests” in the case.

Through their lawyers, Anne Bryan’s parents released a statement in which they called the young woman a “vibrant, talented artist with a brilliant life before her.

“Our family is heartbroken we feel Anne’s absence every day,” the statement read. “We know that the families of the other five victims grieve for their loved ones and suffer the pain of losing a loved one suddenly and tragically. We also extend our deep concern for Mariya [Pleykan] who is struggling for her life.”

Pleykan, a middle-aged woman who immigrated to America from Ukraine, remains hospitalized in serious condition.

The victim, who is being represented by Kline & Specter attorney Andrew Stern, had to have the bottom half of her body surgically amputated due to the serious nature of the injuries to her legs and hips.

Stern, who is suing on behalf of Pleykan, recently told the Pennsylvania Record that because his client’s brain is functioning just fine, he plans to depose her as soon as possible so as to have her testimony preserved in a recording in case the worst materializes.

Doctors, Stern previously stated, have said that it’s quite possible that Pleykan could die due to her injuries.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Bernstein recently granted a motion by Stern to allow Pleykan’s deposition to move forward, despite the judge’s earlier ruling staying all civil litigation arising from the building collapse due to a parallel criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, Mongeluzzi, who filed this week’s suit on behalf of Anne Bryan’s family, is also representing others in civil litigation stemming from the building collapse tragedy.

As for the latest suit, Winkler and her husband said in their statement that while they have long been supporters of the Salvation Army, and admire the organization’s dedication to care for the needy, “in this case, they failed in their duty to protect the public and their employees.

“The evidence shows that they had sufficient information that there was a substantial risk of collapse and that their response was not appropriate given the risk,” the family’s statement reads. “Bricks were raining down on their building for days prior to the collapse. The Salvation Army store should never have been open on June 5.”

The parents said they are pleased that Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams impaneled a grand jury to investigate the circumstances surrounding the collapse, and praised Philadelphia City Council for creating a special investigating committee to look into the same.

“Our objective is to ensure that no other parents have to endure what we have, and we are committed to making sure this never happens again,” the statement reads.

Like other suits filed by Mongeluzzi over the building collapse, the latest complaint contains extensive details on the communications between the various parties involved.

The complaint contains email exchanges, construction site photographs, and images of the aftermath of the tragedy.

Like the other lawsuits filed in the wake of the building collapse, those named as defendants in the present action include Basciano and his company, STB Investments, the Salvation Army, and Griffin T. Campbell, and his demolition firm, Griffin Campbell Construction.

Also named as a defendant is Sean Benschop, who was the worker employed by Campbell to operate the excavator during the course of the demolition project.

Benschop remains the only person connected to the tragedy who is facing criminal charges.

Earlier this month, attorneys Steven Wigrizer and Jason Weiss, of the firm Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller, filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the family of Mary Lea Simpson, another building collapse victim.

Simpson, who, like Anne Bryan, was also 24 years old, had been shopping at the thrift store with Bryan, her friend, at the time of the building collapse.

Another death connected to the collapse didn’t happen inside the thrift store, but its impact was still felt throughout the city.

Ronald Waggenhoffer, a building inspector for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, tragically took his own life following the incident.

While his suicide was apparently tied to feelings of guilt over the collapse, city officials quickly cleared his name, saying Waggenhoffer never engaged in any wrongdoing, and was in no way to blame for the deadly construction site incident.

As for the Bryan complaint, the suit contained the following counts: intentional and fraudulent misrepresentation; negligence, recklessness and outrageous conduct; professional negligence; general negligence; and wrongful death.

For each count listed, Winkler and her husband seek damages in excess of $50,000, plus delay damages, punitive damages, interest and costs.


The case ID number is 130901903.

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