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Salvation Army, developer, others named in building collapse suit

10/2/2013 | Construction Blog, Real Estate Blog

The parents of a woman killed in the June 5 collapse of the Salvation Army Thrift Store have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the property owner, the demolition contractor, the Salvation Army and several other entities. Their daughter, 24, was shopping at the Center City site when the building came down. She was one of six people killed; several more were seriously injured.

The plaintiffs allege more than negligence in their complaint; they accuse the defendants of fraudulent misrepresentation, of deliberately misleading lawmakers and the public about the true nature of the demolition project. The complaint lays out a compelling scenario involving competing business interests, miscommunication and, in the end, self-interest that resulted in the fatal collapse.

According to the complaint, the property owner decided to redevelop the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Market Street when property values began to improve. While the owner and his company owned many of the lots, they did not own all of them, and redevelopment depended on acquiring all of the properties.

Apparently, everything was going according to plan, with one exception: The Salvation Army would not sell.

The owner moved forward with demolition of properties adjacent to the thrift store and decided to have a professional evaluate the structural integrity of the store’s building before knocking anything down. The architect’s inspection revealed that the Salvation Army’s building was “barely sound and in an extreme state of neglect and disrepair.” (The architect is also named as a defendant.)

The plaintiffs allege that the property owner started demolition on the buildings next door in spite of knowing that the work could endanger the already compromised structural integrity of the thrift store. They also allege that the property owner continued his attempts to purchase the thrift store during demolition.

We all know how complicated construction is, but many of us may underestimate how complicated demolition is. In this case, the plaintiffs allege, the property owner understood the risks involved with taking the neighboring buildings down and not only chose to ignore them but chose to cut corners. We’ll get into the details in our next post.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Salvation Army Faces Wrongful Death Claim,” Cheryl Armstrong, Sept. 20, 2013