Building collapse lawsuits expand to include Salvation Army
The attorney representing several victims of the Center City building collapse announced this week that he has evidence that the Salvation Army knew the risks the demolition project posed to workers and patrons and chose to ignore them. A series of emails, he said, shows that the head of the organization and the property manager engaged in “a game of chicken” that resulted in six deaths and injuries to more than a dozen people.
As workers were taking down the building on 22nd and Market streets, a wall collapsed on the Salvation Army store next door. The crane operator involved is facing criminal charges — six counts of manslaughter and 13 counts of reckless endangerment — and was, investigators said, impaired by a combination of marijuana and painkillers at the time of the accident.
The general contractor is also facing criminal charges, and that investigation could put the civil case on hold. The contractor recently asked the court to stay all civil lawsuits related to the collapse until the grand jury has completed its work. It is a constitutional issue, according to the contractor’s attorney: Testimony in civil court could violate the business owner’s Fifth Amendment rights in a criminal trial. If the court agrees, all civil litigation could be delayed by nine months or longer.
The emails were part of a mass of documents released by the Philadelphia city solicitor’s office last month. There are also emails between the property manager of the building and an aide to the mayor asking for help with the Salvation Army. The property manager wrote of his concerns about the safety of the thrift shop during demolition and noted that the organization was not being cooperative.
The city did not intervene, however. According to a public statement released by the commerce director, he understood from a final email that the parties were working together.
So far, the city has not been named in victims’ lawsuits.
CBS Philly, “Salvation Army To Be Named In Center City Collapse Lawsuits,” Pat Loeb, Aug. 15, 2013
CBS Philly, “Deputy Mayor Confirms Receipt of Warning E-mails Before Deadly Building Collapse,” Mike Dunn, July 17, 2013