All six defendants in the landmark civil trial for the Market Street collapse catastrophe have been found liable by a jury after just several hours of deliberations.
The trial now enters a second phase in which the jury will determine how much each defendant owes the nineteen plaintiffs, who are made up of the families of seven people killed and 12 others injured when a four-story wall crushed the Salvation Army thrift store at 22nd and Market streets, June 5, 2013.
The defendants in the nearly five-month trial are developer Richard Basciano and his company STB, his project representative Plato Marinakos, demolition contractor Griffin Campbell, Campbell’s excavator operator Sean Benschop, and the Salvation Army.
In the damages phase, attorneys are expected to call expert witnesses to testify how much value can and should be assessed when life is lost, people are injured, and trauma is incurred upon victims.
Two powerhouse Philadelphia lawyers squared off in court for closing arguments last week — 91-year-old Richard Sprague for Basciano and disaster attorney Robert Mongeluzzi for several plaintiffs.
Basciano, also 91, was hoping to redevelop a block of seedy properties he had held for 20 years. His architect, Plato Marinakos Jr., who oversaw the demolition, received immunity from prosecutors for his cooperation.
Mongeluzzi argued that they hired cut-rate workers to raze the downtown building despite the risk to the public. The workers took the four-story building down from the inside out, destabilizing the brick exterior walls.
He faulted the Salvation Army for keeping the store open despite warnings about the demolition. A lawyer for the Salvation Army called the charity blameless.
The catastrophe led the city to tighten its requirements for getting demolition permits. A city inspector killed himself days after the collapse, although no evidence surfaced that he did anything wrong.
Campbell was being paid $112,000 for the job, a fraction of the other bids. He had no comparable experience. Campbell is serving a 15- to 30-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and other offenses. Sean Benschop, who was operating the machine despite taking Percocet and marijuana for medical problems, was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in prison for similar crimes.
The victims included the 24-year-old daughter of the city treasurer, who died along with a friend as they dropped off donations.