Suit Cites Building Flaws In Garage Collapse

A lawyer representing the families of two ironworkers killed in the recent collapse of a casino parking garage under construction in Atlantic City filed a negligence lawsuit yesterday contending that improper construction practices doomed the building and the workers.
“This was a huge, high-stakes construction project that was built like a flimsy house of cards,” the lawyer, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, said of the 10-story garage being built as part of a $245 million expansion at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. The top five floors tumbled down on Oct. 30, one after another, as workers were pouring fresh concrete on part of the top floor. Four workers were killed, and 20 others were hurt.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Mongeluzzi contended that the floors had fallen because an inadequate support system was in place during the pouring operation. He said too few metal bracing poles were in place beneath the 10th floor to support the weight of the fresh concrete. He also said his investigators believed that some of the vertical bracing poles helping to support lower floors had been removed prematurely, before concrete poured earlier had time to harden sufficiently. “They were under extreme stress,” he said of the remaining poles.

He also argued that the floors that fell did not have any horizontal steel rods linking them to an outside wall of the garage. “It is standard construction practice for there to be substantial connections between the floors and the wall,” he said. “Those connections are noticeably absent.”

Mr. Mongeluzzi said he filed the wrongful death suit, a civil action, in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, in part because the Keating Building Corporation, the company building the addition, had its headquarters there.

After Mr. Mongeluzzi filed the lawsuit, he held a news conference on the sidewalk outside the Keating office. He said he chose not to file in New Jersey Superior Court in Atlantic County because casinos were the county’s biggest employers and he feared he could not get enough impartial jurors to hear the case.

In a statement, Keating said the reason for the collapse remained a mystery. “At this point, no one with any credibility can claim to know the true cause,” the company’s statement said. “Grandstanding and news conferences don’t get us any closer to the truth.”

The statement said the company had retained forensic engineers who investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center at 9/11 to search for the reasons for the garage collapse. “We will continue working with them until we have all the answers,” the statement said.

Mr. Mongeluzzi said his office had also turned to experts who studied the collapse of the trade center, including W. Gene Corley, a structural engineer who led the inquiry into the collapse.

Mr. Mongeluzzi declined to discuss any preliminary analysis done by Mr. Corley or to offer any details for his conclusions about inadequate support of the floors that fell.

But he said construction workers on the project had told his investigators that they were rushing to complete the garage for a scheduled opening of the entire addition by next April and that they had noticed, in the days before the collapse, both cracks in recently poured floors and bent vertical support poles holding up floors that eventually fell.

He also said that workers had told his staff that the company that was pouring the concrete, Fabi Construction, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., was using some of the same poles at the Tropicana casino as at an addition Fabi was helping build at the Resorts casino in Atlantic City.

The suit was filed in behalf of Michael Wittland, a 53-year-old crew foreman, of Pleasantville, N.J., and James Bigelow, 29, of Egg Harbor Township. Two other construction workers — Robert A. Tartaglio, 42, of Galloway Township, N.J., and Scott N. Pietrosante, 21, of Milmay, N.J. — were also killed.

Other companies cited in the suit included Fabi Construction and the Tropicana casino and its parent company, the Aztar Corporation. Officials at the Tropicana declined to comment on the suit.

Officials at Fabi did not respond to a message left with an office secretary. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is leading the investigation into the crash, declined to comment on its inquiry or the lawsuit.

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