First wrongful death lawsuit in Center City building collapse

The family of a 24-year-old woman killed in this summer’s Philadelphia building collapse has filed the first wrongful death suit stemming from the incident.

Mary Lea Simpson was shopping with a friend in the Salvation Army thrift store on June 5, and was crushed when the wall of an adjacent building under demolition collapsed. Her family’s lawsuit doesn’t fault the city, but names the owner of the building being demolished, as well as the contractor, the expediter who got the demolition permit, a heavy equipment operator, and the Salvation Army.

The complaint includes copies of numerous communications between officials of the Salvation Army and representatives of the owner of the adjoining building, STB investments.

“The Salvation Army was warned that there were risks, that this kind of tragedy could occur,” Steven Wigrizer, the attorney for Simpson’s family said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “And nevertheless, incredibly, they chose to stay open on June 5, despite the clear and present danger.”

Five others in the store were killed, and 13 were injured.

Eric Weiss, an attorney for the Salvation Army, said the collapse was the result of actions by the building owner and contractor in direct violation of written assurances given the Salvation Army.

“The Salvation Army had been advised on May 15 and May 29 that any demolition of the structure would be done by and hand and with the use of bucket trucks,” Weiss said in a phone interview. “The Salvation Army was advised in writing that no structural demolition would take place until all issues had been resolved.”

At least nine other victims have filed personal injury suits. Those civil cases are on hold while a grand jury conducts a criminal investigation of the collapse.

Disclosure: Kyra McGrath, WHYY’s chief operating officer, serves on the advisory board of the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia.

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