Arbitrator to decide how to split $227 million settlement in building collapse case

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Plaintiff attorneys from left

Plaintiff attorneys from left

The longest civil case in Philadelphia court history now has one stage left before it’s closed for good: arbitration.

After more than four months of testimony, defense and plaintiffs’ lawyers Wednesday reached a settlement agreement that will pay the 19 victims of 2013’s deadly building collapse a total of $227 million – believed to be the highest personal injury pay out in Pennsylvania state court history. 

How much of the record sum each plaintiff receives will be decided during a private allocation process where plaintiffs’ lawyers will make arguments before an appointed arbitrator. They’ll be similar arguments they made to jurors during the damages phase of the trial.

 

“They’ll talk about past pain and suffering, past inability to enjoy life’s pleasures, past economic losses in terms of wage loss, past economic losses in terms of medical bills,” said veteran personal injury lawyer Harry Kane, who is not part of the case.

They’ll also talk about future pain and suffering, future inability to enjoy life’s pleasures, future economic losses.

Somewhat counterintuitively, injured plaintiffs could end up with more money than the families of those who died in the collapse.

Seven people died after an unsupported wall of a building being demolished crushed the busy Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets. Twelve more were injured.

“Someone who has died has a fixed period of pain and suffering. If they were killed on the day of the accident, they only suffered for a number of hours,” said Kane.

“But if you have someone who is catastrophically injured and remains alive, well they’ve suffered everyday from the date of that building collapse through the day of the this settlement and, presumably, will suffer every day for the rest of their expected life.

Mariya Plekan, one of the case’s plaintiffs, was trapped in the rubble of the collapse for 13 hours. Afterwards, both of her legs were amputated at the hip.

During the criminal trial tied to the collapse in October 2015, Plekan, a Ukrainian immigrant, said through a translator told jurors she had had more than 30 surgeries since the collapse and was in pain much of the time.

“It’s very, very difficult for me. I still have trouble breathing. I still need a lot of rehabilitation,” said Plekan. “There’s very little I can do for myself.”

It’s unclear how much of the $227 million each of the case’s six defendants will pay. Those figures are sealed by a confidentiality agreement.

Jerry Roscoe, selected to be the case’s arbitrator, said some of the payments would “probably” be covered by insurance policies.

The private allocation process could start as early as the end of the month.

“I don’t expect long delays after rendering my decision,” said Roscoe of the timetable for plaintiffs getting paid. “It’s the intent of all parties to take care of the plaintiffs as expeditiously as possible. And that includes the defendants. The defendants want to do right too.”

Roscoe was also the mediator for the settlement agreement. He said negotiations began during the trial.

Earlier this month, after four hours of deliberation, a jury found all defendants financially liable in the June 5, 2013 collapse.

They include building owner Richard Basciano; Basciano’s real estate company — STB Investments Corp.; owner’s representative Plato Marinakos; demolition contractor Griffin Campbell; excavator operator Sean Benschop; and the Salvation Army.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the group all knew that the building was being taken down dangerously but did nothing, and that several defendants were too inexperienced to work the project.

The Salvation Army was sued for allegedly ignoring a string of emails warning that the Hoagie City property was a public safety hazard.

Defense attorneys maintained that their clients were removed from day-to-day decision-making or relied on others to get the job done.

Campbell and Benschop are the only two people who were criminally charged for their roles in the collapse.

Campbell was sentenced to 15-30 years behind bars after he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and other offenses. Benschop is serving half that after he plead guilty to the same charges.

Marinakos, an architect by trade, was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for his testimony before a grand jury and during Campbell’s 2015 murder trial.

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