Judge delays civil suits in building collapse

Civil cases were stayed to avoid conflict with a criminal probe.
Civil cases were stayed to avoid conflict with a criminal probe. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: August 22, 2013

Common Pleas Court Judge Mark I. Bernstein has ordered a nine-month stay of all civil cases stemming from the Center City building collapse to avoid any conflicts with a criminal investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

The decision is likely to delay any payments to surviving victims, some of whom face extensive medical bills and income losses, their lawyers say.

Attorneys for Griffin T. Campbell, the demolition contractor in charge of the project at 22d and Market Streets, had asked for the delay, citing the pending grand jury investigation.

The judge granted the stay Friday without hearing from lawyers representing the victims. Several of the lawyers said Tuesday that they would ask Bernstein to reconsider.

Robert M. Mongeluzzi, who represents seven victims, said a delay would make it more difficult for plaintiffs' lawyers to pursue their claims.

"From our perspective, as time goes on, memories fade. Evidence gets lost. People die," he said. "It is already two months postaccident. Normally in cases we use the first year to really jump-start discovery, making sure there's no defendant out there that we missed."

In complex cases, it typically takes about 26 months from the beginning of discovery until trial, Mongeluzzi said. A nine-month delay in discovery could push back trials for close to three years.

"I quite frankly think it's outrageous," said James Golkow, who represents victim Shirley Ball. "As the saying goes, 'Justice delayed is justice denied.' My client has not been back to work, she has mounting medical bills with no health insurance. . . . We've now turned a two-year wait into three or four years."

Andrew J. Stern, who filed suit Monday on behalf of Mariya Plekan, who was buried in the debris for 13 hours and lost her legs, is not yet affected by the stay. He has asked the judge to let him depose Plekan next month, saying her health was precarious.

Plekan remains at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania suffering from kidney failure, liver dysfunction, heart and breathing problems, and sepsis. Stern said her medical condition leaves her "at risk of sudden and imminent death."

"She was buried alive for 13 hours, but she remained conscious. She has a memory of what happened, memory of people trying to find her, memory of going to the hospital . . . lots of important evidence," he said. "I'm just seeking . . . to preserve her testimony so a Philadelphia jury can hear her story in the event something happens to her."


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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