Lawsuit filed in deadly fire-escape collapse

Posted: January 29, 2014

A WRONGFUL-DEATH lawsuit was filed yesterday in the fatal collapse of a Center City apartment building's fire escape two weeks ago, claiming that the landlord was negligent and caused the collapse by not repairing the deteriorating fourth-floor balcony.

Albert Suh, 22, died and Laura O'Brien, 24, suffered a broken back, a leg wound that required 60 stitches to close and other serious injuries in the Jan. 12 collapse of the fire-escape balcony attached to their apartment at 22nd and Locust streets near Rittenhouse Square.

The roommates plummeted about 43 feet to the ground; Suh died of severe head and neck injuries shortly afterward at Hahnemann University Hospital. O'Brien's back injury required surgically implanted steel rods and plates, according to the lawsuit.

A third roommate also fell and suffered a broken back, but she's not part of this lawsuit. The three housemates were hosting a birthday party with friends and stepped onto the fire escape about midnight when its iron rails collapsed and the platform broke away from the wall, according to the lawsuit and police reports.

The steel structure was badly corroded and weakened because of poor maintenance and a lack of inspection, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit names landlord Alex Khorram and his company, the Khorram Group of Newtown Square, as defendants.

Khorram couldn't be reached for comment.

"Obviously, this collapse should never have happened. This lawsuit is about finding out why it happened, fairly compensating the plaintiffs and preventing a repetition," said attorney Shanin Specter, who filed the lawsuit yesterday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court on behalf of Suh's family and O'Brien.

Suh was a recent Penn State University graduate and Leonia, N.J., native who worked as a financial analyst at JP Morgan Chase & Co. O'Brien is a kindergarten teacher at Grover Cleveland School in Tioga. She was discharged from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday and is recuperating at her parents' home near Washington, D.C.

"She's got a long recovery ahead of her," Specter said.

The collapse already has moved city leaders to action. City Councilman Curtis Jones is calling for hearings to improve the safety of fire escapes. And officials are mulling new regulations requiring property owners to provide proof that a professional engineer has certified a building's fire escapes as safe, according to Rebecca Swanson, spokeswoman for the city's Licenses & Inspections Department.

Although property owners are required to maintain safe fire escapes, the city doesn't inspect them to confirm their safety unless someone files a complaint, Swanson said.

Change is overdue, Specter said.

"If L&I can't get to inspect every property every year, what about requiring the land owner to have a proper inspection done and certify compliance?" Specter said. "That would take the burden off the city but would still safeguard the residents."

Khorram bought the 108-year-old historic building in December 2002, according to city records. The property had no violations or maintenance complaints before Jan. 12, Swanson said.

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo


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