In a global settlement of the lawsuits
filed after the collapse of Pier 34, the plaintiffs will be paid a
total of $29.5 million, with the estates of the three women who
died each receiving 25 percent of the fund and the remaining 25
percent to be shared by the 43 injured plaintiffs.
Lawyers said the estates of those who died will
each receive about $7.4 million and that the injured plaintiffs
have agreed to have their respective shares of the fund decided in
The lawsuits were especially complex because the
plaintiffs had named two dozen defendants, alleging each had played
a role in causing the May 18, 2000, disaster by ignoring the
warning signs for years that the pier was in serious disrepair and
allowing a nightclub to be built on it. The case name is In re:
Pier 34 Litigation.
Five years before the accident, the suits
alleged, the owners of the pier were told that it needed more than
$1.2 million in repairs that would entail replacing 600 pilings.
But instead of spending the money, the suit alleged, the pier's
owners opted to install a series of braces that ultimately failed
to keep the pier in place.
Experts were prepared to testify at trial that
in the weeks before the pier's collapse, the warning signs were
especially clear - including a widening crack in the nightclub's
floor - but that the owners of the pier and the Heat nightclub
refused to close the pier and instead made only cosmetic repairs,
according to court papers.
In interviews yesterday, the lead lawyers for
the plaintiffs and the defendants said the settlement could not
have happened without the leadership of Philadelphia Common Pleas
Judge William J. Manfredi .
"This was as complex a puzzle as you can
imagine, and Judge Manfredi put it together", said plaintiffs'
attorney Robert Mongeluzzi of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett &
Attorney Thomas R. Kline of Kline & Specter,
who together with Mongeluzzi served as co-lead counsel for the
plaintiffs, said, "It's really not overstating it to call Judge
Manfredi's work on this case a Herculean effort. This was a
six-month marathon of judicial involvement. The judge had dozens of
meetings with defendants, plaintiffs and insurance carriers."
Defense attorney Louis A. Bovc of Bodell Bove
Grace & Van Horn concurred with his opponents, saying, "All the
credit for the resolution rests with Judge Manfredi. He worked
tirelessly and this was not an easy matter to resolve."
One lawyer, who asked to be quoted anonymously,
expressed praise for Manfredi's work more bluntly, saying, "This
judge spent countless hours banging heads."
Plaintiffs' attorney Alan M. Feldman of Feldman
Shepherd Wohlgclcmter & Tanner, who hosted monthly meetings of
the plaintiffs' committee, said the settlement was "'a great credit
to the tenacity of Judge Manfredi.'
Feldman also said the plaintiffs' learn deserved
credit for working together as a group. "No one said, I'm going to
work on my own case.' There was some terrific teamwork here,"
Feldman said attorney Roberta D. Pichini of
Litvin Blumberg Matusow & Young deserved special mention for
taking the lead in handling a federal suit that threatened to
derail the stale court litigation when one of the defendants took
the position that the case was governed by federal maritime
Manfredi, in an interview in his chambers
yesterday afternoon, said he was determined that if the case did
not settle, it would go to trial this spring. But he also said he
was happy the case had settled because any trial would have lasted
three months and required a huge space to accommodate all of the
"To be perfectly honest. I didn't even know
where I would put it," Manfredi said, adding that he had looked
into the possibility of renting space in the convention center.
Manfredi said he divided the lawyers into groups
and met with them separately in an effort to achieve a global
The task was a complicated one, Manfredi said,
because many of the defendants had trial counsel and separate
insurance coverage counsel.
Manfredi said his colleague Judge Norman
Ackerman, deserved credit for handling the case for more than a
year in the discovery stage.
According to court papers Pier 34 was originally
constructed in 1890 but was significantly expanded in 1909.
In 1984, developer Michael Asbell, the head of
Portside Investors, purchased Pier 34 for $850,000.
In 1992, Eli Karetny opened a nightclub on the
pier called Eli's Pier 34.
By 1995, Karetny was in negotiations with
Campbell's Soup heiress Dorrance Hamilton and her company, HMS
Ventures, to bring The Moshulu, a 394-foot ship, to the pier as a
Instead of investing in Karetny's company,
Hamilton lent his company $500,000 for pier repairs, according to
court papers. Later, Hamilton agreed to go forward with moving The
Moshulu to the pier, and it opened for business in May 1996. In
1996, HMS also bought Karetny's nightclub, which was later renamed
In August 2001, the Philadelphia District
Attorney's Office filed criminal charges against Asbell and
Karetny, including three counts of involuntary manslaughter and 43
counts each of reckless endangerment, risking catastrophe, failure
to prevent a catastrophe and criminal conspiracy.
Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner dismissed all
of the felony charges against Asbell and Karetny but allowed the
misdemeanor charges - including the involuntary manslaughter
charges - to go forward.
The DA's Office appealed Lerner's ruling, but
the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld his decision in October
2003. The DA's Office has now appealed that ruling as well.
A real estate expert hired by the plaintiffs
opined in his report that Asbell, Karctny and Hamilton all share
responsibility for the disaster. The report was written by the
expert in preparation for trial and submitted to Manfredi.
Robert S. Griswold of Griswold Real Estate
Management in San Diego, a member of the elite group of Realtors
who carry the designation "counselor of real estate," concluded in
his report that Asbell and Karetny were liable because "the warning
signs - such as the dramatic expansion of the cracks and increase
in number of cracks between May 16 and May 18 - were so obvious
that... the decision to open the pier constituted a conscious and
reckless indifference to the safety and well being of the
Griswold also reviewed Hamilton's role in the
decisions about pier repairs in the mid-1990s and said he concluded
that she, too, was liable. No criminal charges were filed against
Hamilton, he said, was aware that a barge had
collided with the pier in 1955 and that suffered a partial collapse
"Yet she made the decision to dock The Moshulu
at Pier 34 and expand HMS's operations to include a nightclub,
restaurant and ballroom on the pier," Griswold wrote. •