A jury determining fault in the 2013 Center City building collapse returned with a verdict against all five defendants. The lawsuit was a contentious one, with accusations hurled that the plaintiffs were looking to cash in on the tragedy while the defendants pointed the blame at each other. The jury ultimately decided that all defendants were responsible for the tragic building collapse, which killed seven people and destroyed a Salvation Army thrift store.
Seven Die in Philadelphia Building Collapse
Six people died and 13 others were injured on June 5, 2013, when the three-story wall of a building called the Hoagie City building—found in an area of Philadelphia known as Center City—collapsed, crushing the Salvation Army thrift store. A seventh person died three weeks after the structural failure.
As an excavator demolished the Hoagie City building as part of a move to replace it with a residential-commercial complex, the unsupported wall next to the Salvation Army thrift store tumbled down, trapping 19 people inside.
Among those who died were two young women who were in the thrift store to drop off donations, a grandmother shopping for clothes, and a thrift store employee. Some of those who survived the building collapse were left with permanent injuries, including Mariya Pekan, a thrift store customer whose legs had to be amputated at the hip.
During the 15-week trial, evidence was presented that suggested the Salvation Army received several emails warning that the building could collapse. According to reports, just prior to the Center City building collapse, emails were sent from an aide to the developer to the Salvation Army, warning that there was a risk of the wall collapsing. Some of those warnings, however, were reportedly sent in an effort to pressure the Salvation Army to give crews access to its roof to speed up the demolition process.
Two Contractors in Prison over Fatal Structure Collapse
Two demolition contractors were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the Center City building collapse, and are serving long prison sentences. Sean Benscop, one of the demolition contractors, used an excavator on the day the wall fell even though building regulations require unsupported walls be taken apart by hand to prevent such a tragedy. Benscop was also found to be taking Percocet and marijuana to treat medical issues, even though he was operating heavy machinery. He was sentenced to between 7.5 and 15 years in prison.
Griffin Campbell was sentenced to between 15 and 30 years for his role in the building collapse. According to reports his work destabilized the building because he gutted it from the inside instead of taking it apart one floor at a time. He was reportedly not qualified to oversee the demolition and charged very little for the job.
A city inspector committed suicide following the structural collapse, although he was not named as one of the parties responsible for what happened.
The two demolition contractors were found liable in the civil lawsuit, but are believed to have no money and were found the least liable of the five plaintiffs.
Others who were found financially liable for Hoagie City building failure:
- Richard Basciano, the real estate developer who owned the building under demolition and who allegedly hired inexperienced contractors so he could save money;
- Plato A. Marinakos, Jr., the architect hired to oversee the demolition project and who recommended Campbell for the job. He allegedly knew the building might collapse but did not send out proper warnings; and
- The Salvation Army, who allegedly ignored warnings about the potential structural failure.
The jury found the Salvation Army most liable, giving it 75 percent of the blame. Marinakos and Basciano were assigned five percent each, although Basciano’s company was given 13 percent of the blame. Campbell and Benschop were handed one percent of the blame. The jury found all defendants except Campbell showed negligent conduct in their actions in the days leading up to the Center City building collapse.
For the two Salvation Army employees who died and were not allowed to sue the charity, the jury gave more blame to Basciano and his company, 34 percent each, and Marinakos, 30 percent. Campbell and Benschop were again given one percent of the blame. The jury, which took less than a day to assign liability, will now sort out how much each of the defendants must pay.
City of Philadelphia Immune from Center City Building Collapse Lawsuit
Despite heavy criticism about the City of Philadelphia’s oversight of construction projects, the city itself was not a defendant in the lawsuit. The city and its Department of Licenses & Inspections are granted sovereign immunity and none of the employees were found guilty of conduct that would make them an exception to that immunity.
The lawsuit now enters the damages phase, which involves an extra week of testimony. Following that, the jury will decide how much the how much defendants must pay to each of the victims of the Center City building collapse.