First Lawsuit Filed in Philadelphia Building Collapse

A Salvation Army worker is the first to file suit in the collapse that killed 6 and injured 13.

Nadine White was at work inside the Salvation Army thrift store in Philadelphia on Wednesday when the four-story building next door came crashing down on top of her and everyone else inside.

Six people died. White is among the 13 who were injured.

"Mrs. White was trapped in a nightmare when the collapse occurred," said Philadelphia attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.

The 54-year-old mother of three was thrown to the ground and buried in rubble. She was one of the first rescued by firefighters. Today, she became the first victim to file suit, hiring one of the most successful construction accident and catastrophe attorneys in the country.

Mongeluzzi and his firm are asking for an emergency hearing. They want to do their own on-site inspection — this Saturday — and they want certain evidence related to the case to be preserved, including all permits, engineering surveys, demolition plans and property records.

White is suing the owner of the building, Richard Basciano of New York City, and the demolition contractor, Griffin T. Campbell.

Her attorney claims the demolition was "grossly reckless, if not criminally negligent."

Mongeluzzi claims the contractor did not adhere to government requirements that call for an engineering site survey to be conducted before demolition starts. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration also requires that any wall higher than one story be laterally braced during demolition. Mongeluzzi said one of the reasons they need to do their own site survey is because as far as he can tell, the wall that collapsed was either never braced or not properly braced.

At approximately 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the building, which was under demolition, collapsed. It was a day that is characteristically busy inside the store.

"We are fortunate it didn't happen at a later time. It could have been catastrophic because it was a family sale day," said Randall Thomas of the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia.

Five women and one man died in the collapse. Two of the dead were White's co-workers.

White was trapped for ten minutes before being dug out of the debris. She suffered minor injuries. Emergency workers and ordinary people who jumped in to help that day were able to rescue 13 people in all. Myra Plekan, the last survivor pulled from the debris, was buried alive for 13 hours. She's critically injured and being treated and in the intensive care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

"She [White] mourns for those who died and has asked us to do everything we can to require these defendants to preserve critical evidence and make certain those responsible are held accountable by a jury," Mongeluzzi said.

The building's owner STB Investments released this statement, "Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to the people affected by this tragic event. Please know that we are committed to working with the City of Philadelphia and other authorities to determine what happened yesterday."

An agent for Basciano's company, STB Investments, said Basciano has nothing to hide. The agent, who did not want to be named, said he's convinced that once the investigation moves forward, Basciano and the demolition contractor will "be in the all clear."

A Philadelphia judge is expected to rule on White's emergency motion Friday morning.

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