Multimillion-dollar deal reached

MATT BRETZIUS - The Times Herald
January 10, 2009

CONSHOHOCKEN - Nearly 14 months after a monumental fire tore through two buildings of a luxury apartment complex in Conshohocken, the victims have received compensation for their losses.

At a joint press conference held at the Marriott Residence Inn in Conshohocken Tuesday morning, council for both the plaintiffs and the defendants, as well as

Brian O'Neill, developer of the burned-down Riverwalk  at the Millennium buildings, announced they had reached an out-of-court settlement worth $36.25 million.

"Today we can announce that the Conshohocken fire case litigation has settled in its entirety for in excess of $36 million. This is an unprecedented result, to do this in an abbreviated, short period of time," said Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, lead council for the tenants in the suit. "We are gratified that although the victims of the fire lost their possessions, and the emotional attachment that goes with them, this will provide them with the opportunity to begin rebuilding their lives and replacing in some small part those valuable possessions."

Robert J. Mongeluzzi

Mongeluzzi said that of the $36 million settlement, $9 million will be divided among the roughly 200 residents who were represented in the suit, with the other $27 million going to pay back insurance companies who insured Riverwalk and have helped in the rebuilding process.

The plaintiff's attorney praised both sides for their swift action, saying that the main goal was to get the tenants what they deserved as quickly as possible.

"In litigation, the normal reaction is for both parties, the plaintiffs and defendants, both parties to fight each other every step of the way. That's not the course we took in this case. This was the exception rather than the rule. We worked to put the money where it should go, and that is in the hands of the tenants and to rebuild Riverwalk," Mongeluzzi said.

"Brian O'Neill, who was on the other side as a defendant in this case, worked tirelessly on his behalf and on the behalf of everyone involved to try and get this case resolved from the get-go," Mongeluzzi continued. "And that was really an unusual thing to do, but the right thing to do."

O'Neill said it was his goal from the beginning to reach a swift agreement that was satisfactory to all parties.

"The day this fire occurred, we made up our minds that it was an absolute monumental tragedy and an accident. Accidents happen, and I don't think people are judged on whether or not they have accidents in their life, but more on how they deal with those accidents when they have them," he said. "We immediately assembled our insurance companies and our attorneys and made it crystal clear that it was our objective to settle this case in record time. The Meridian Tower fire case, for example, took 12 years to settle; this case settled in less than 14 months.

"I'm here today to close the book on a tragedy that I hope will never happen again. I'm grateful that no one was hurt and I realize that families lost their prized possessions and possession of their homes, and we're just very, very happy that they can be compensated."

Riverwalk sustained damages in excess of $35 million to the buildings alone. O'Neill estimated that his company has taken a loss of approximately $70 million including damages and lost rent, and he is not sure how much it will get back.

O'Neill also thanked the large number of firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel who assisted, as well as the area businesses who donated, and the Borough of Conshohocken for all the help provided in the wake of the fire.

He also said the process of rebuilding has begun.

"The new buildings are currently under construction. We are currently rebuilding and increasing the level of luxury and finish on the buildings," O'Neill said. "We have tremendous activity and have been received extremely warmly."

Those residents that were a part of the lawsuit and would like to learn how to initiate their claim may visit the Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky Web site at smbb.com for information.

Related Attorneys

Robert J. Mongeluzzi

Office: 215-575-2989