Jury to decide how much owner, charity owe victims of Center City building collapse

An overhead view of the deadly 2013 building collapse in Center City Philadelphia (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

An overhead view of the deadly 2013 building collapse in Center City Philadelphia (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Jurors return to courtroom 653 in City Hall on Friday for the damages phase of the civil trial stemming from 2013’s deadly building collapse in Center City Philadelphia.

The panel, already on the case for more than four months, will decide how much the defendants will pay each plaintiff in damages after hearing testimony from both sides. The 19 plaintiffs include those who were injured in the incident, as well as family members of the six people killed on June 5, 2013. That’s when a three-story, unsupported wall of a building being demolished fell onto and crushed a busy Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market Streets.

It took the jury just four hours to return verdicts on Tuesday. This process will likely take much longer.

“It will not be quick only because you have to come to a consensus on each of those 19 plaintiffs — what you think is an adequate award. The sheer paperwork of it could take a while,” said veteran personal injury lawyer Harry Kane.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The jury found six defendants were financially responsible for the collapse. Richard Basciano, who owned the building that was under demolition, and The Salvation Army, which was operating a thrift store next door, stand to lose the most.

For the plaintiffs who were thrift store customers, The Salvation Army was found to be 75 percent responsible. Basciano and his company STB Investments Corp. will take on 18 percent of the blame.

Owner’s representative Plato Marinakos, demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, and excavator operator Sean Benschop share the remaining the liability.

For plaintiffs who were thrift store employees, Basciano and STB were assigned 68 percent of the liability; Marinakos 30 percent; Campbell and Benschop one percent each.

Legally, employees couldn’t sue The Salvation Army.

Payouts could be in the millions after jurors consider several factors, including emotional distress and punitive damages, said Kane.

The panel will also consider “past pain and suffering from the date of the collapse through the date of the verdict, past medical bills from the date of the collapse through the date of the verdict, past loss of the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures, which sounds kind of nebulous. But it’s to live your life. Things that you would ordinarily do,” added Kane.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that Basciano hired Campbell after Marinakos, an architect who had no experience being an owner’s representative on a demolition project, recommended him. Campbell had never demolished a commercial property.

Campbell hired Benschop to speed up the demolition. Benschop was chipping away at the building when it collapsed.

The Salvation Army was sued for allegedly ignoring a series of warnings that the Hoagie City building was being demolished dangerously.

On the stand, defendants described the incident as tragic, but stopped short of shouldering any responsibility for the collapse.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal