Critically injured victim of building collapse to testify

Mariya Plekan has filed a suit against multiple defendants.
Mariya Plekan has filed a suit against multiple defendants.
Posted: September 11, 2013

PHILADELPHIA Mariya Plekan, the most seriously injured survivor of the June 5 Center City building collapse, will be able to tell her story of being trapped under the rubble for 13 hours and losing her legs, a Philadelphia judge ruled Monday.

Common Pleas Court Judge Mark I. Bernstein ruled that Plekan, an immigrant from Ukraine who is suffering from kidney failure but has been weaned from using a ventilator, can give a deposition in her lawsuit against multiple defendants as soon as she is capable of enduring the process.

"I'm happy that we'll have an opportunity to preserve her testimony," said Plekan's lawyer, Andrew J. Stern, explaining that his client remains in critical condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Her legs and hip joints had to be amputated, he added: "She had half of her lower body removed."

Attorneys from both sides in Plekan's lawsuit agreed that she should be permitted to give a statement as soon as possible, and Stern said she may be able to testify next week.

Six people were killed and 14 injured when a four-story wall from an adjacent building undergoing demolition crashed on top of a Salvation Army store at 22d and Market Streets. Plekan was shopping when the thrift store collapsed.

There has been a flurry of lawsuits by survivors and the families of the dead. Among the defendants named in Plekan's suit are building owner Richard Basciano, the demolition contractors, and the Salvation Army.

Richard A. Sprague, attorney for Basciano, declined to comment.

In another part of his ruling Monday, Bernstein allowed the lawyers involved in the building collapse lawsuits to begin a limited process of gathering essential documents. He released copies of a videotaped deposition by Plekan's doctor, Jose Pascual, that was taken as part of her suit.

There has been a temporary hold on subpoenaing documents and taking most depositions in the lawsuits because a criminal grand jury is investigating the accident. Sean Benschop, who operated a excavator during the building's demolition, has been charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter.

But Bernstein said he wanted to balance the rights of those under investigation and the rights of victims in allowing the lawsuits to proceed in a limited manner.

He told lawyers for the victims to shape a consolidated request for the information they wanted. That request is expected to be presented to the court in the next 10 days, lawyer Steven G. Wigrizer said.

Wigrizer, who represents the family of a 24-year-old art school graduate killed in the collapse, said Bernstein's new stance represented "the first chink in the armor" of the courts' hold on the lawsuits.

He said plaintiffs' lawyers typically want lawsuits to advance quickly because it allows them to gather testimony while memories are fresh and documents can be preserved.


Contact Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

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