Collapsed Wall Needed Bracing, Attorney Says

The wall that fell onto a store in Center City Philadelphia Wednesday should have been braced once the building’s front was removed, according to a prominent Philadelphia construction-collapse attorney.

Bob Mongeluzzi said he was told by sources he talked to at the scene of the collapse at 2136-38 Market St. that the contractor demolishing the building had removed its front in the past few days.

“That would have left a towering, three-story wall that would have been perched above the thrift shop that the wall ultimately collapsed into,” he said.

“The requirements are that it [should have been] braced. There’s no evidence of that.”

The demolition contractor’s record was less than stellar, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The paper said it was Griffin Campbell Construction, “a small operator in North Philadelphia with a history of bankruptcy and outstanding tax debts.”

The Inquirer reported that the company operates from the home of Griffin T. Campbell, who pleaded guilty in April 2009 to having filed a false insurance claim.

The property being demolished was a former four-story apartment building at 2136-2138 Market St. owned by Richard Basciano, who owns most of two largely decepit, adjacent blocks in the area. A wall from the building fell onto a two-story building at 2140 Market St. that housed a Salvation Army thrift store.

Fourteen people were pulled from the rubble of the collapse, according to CNN, which also reported that one person was killed.

Mongeluzzi, who said he doesn’t represent anyone in the collapse, is a partner in the Center City law firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky. He said he has handled probably 20 to 30 building-collapse cases, including the collapse of Pier 34 in Philadelphia in 2000 and the collapse of the Tropicana Casino and Resort parking garage in Atlantic City, N.J., in 2003.

Occupational Safety & Health Administration regulation 1926.850(a) requires that an engineering survey be made of any property targeted for demolition before work is done on the property.

Mongeluzzi said in the demolition injury cases he’s been involved with, either no survey was completed, the survey didn’t account for everything it was supposed to account for, and/or the survey wasn’t followed.

“I’ve never seen one where there was an engineering survey that was good, they followed it and then a collapse occurred,” he said.

Given the reports of the demolition contractor’s history, “if you asked me to bet, I’d say there was no survey,” he said.

Mongeluzzi said that once the front of the building was gone, the wall was prone to collapse.

“It is insane for someone to be demolishing a three-story wall perched over a store full of people,” he said. “It is, in my opinion, criminal conduct, it is outrageously reckless and grossly negligent.”

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