ATLANTIC, CITY – More than 30 attorneys appeared in ·court Thursday in. connection with the deadly Tropicana parking .garage collapse and it looks as if they agree on at least one thing: The case should be. handled. here not in Philadelphia.
In February attorney. Robert Mongeluzzi filed wrongful-death claims in Superior Court in’ Philadelphia on behalf of the widows of two of the four workers’ killed .in the ,Oct.,30 collapse. At the time, he said-he felt that because the casinos employ- so many people in ·the Atlantic City area, it was the only way to get an unbiased jury. The defendants attorneys opposed the suits being filed in Pennsylvania.
Now Mongeluzzi has agreed to dismiss the Philadelphia claims. His law practice, which also represents eight of 20 injured workers in civil lawsuits, agreed that Atlantic City is the proper venue. He said the attorneys realized that if the case were handled in Pennsylvania the court would have, no jurisdiction over a major defendant – subcontractor Fabi Construction Inc., which is based in Egg Harbor Township.
Mongeluzzi and co-counsel Larry Bendesky, along With more than 30 other attorneys, met Thursday with Superior Court Judge William Todd to discuss discovery for pending litigation in the many wrongful-death, personal-injury and construction claims stemming from the incident in which the top five floors of a 10-story parking garage being built at Tropicana Casino and Resort collapsed as workers poured concrete, killing the four workers and injuring more than 20 others.
Fred Jacoby, a lawyer representing Keating Building Corp., the general contractor for the garage construction, also appeared. In January; Jacoby told The Press of Atlantic City that Keating would fight the Pennsylvania venue because the collapse happened in the resort and the matter should be heard here.
The lawyers gathered in Todd’s courtroom to decide on how best to consolidate claims from injured workers, family members of the four deceased victims and businesses that suffered as a result of the collapse or the ensuing work stoppage on Tropicana’s $245 million expansion project.
Unlike some massive court proceedings in which plaintiffs and defendants fill the courtroom and little gets resolved, these parties did a lot in three hours, Mongeluzzi said.
Todd told the attorneys that he would consolidate the lawsuits into one and said that he would work with them on electronically filing discovery to speed up the process. However, the litigation is expected to take at least a year. The judge said he is contemplating setting an April 2005 deadline for the exchange of documents and other information among the attorneys.
In addition to Keating and Fabi Construction, others named in the suit are the Tropicana Casino and Resort, and its parent company; Aztar Corp. of Phoenix; Adamar of New Jersey Inc., an operator of the Tropicana; and Mid State Filigree Systems Inc. of Cranbury, the manufacturer and supplier of the pre-case cement molds used in the construction project.
In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Nov. 26, the widows of collapse victims James P. Bigelow and Michael M Wittland blamed the casino, Keating and concrete subcontractor Fabi Construction for the accident, claiming they switched to a cheaper and. quicker construction plan despite warnings from workers who feared the garage ceilings Did not have enough support.
The two men died along with two others – Scott Pietrosante, 21, of Buena Vista Township, and Robert Tartaglio Jr., 42, of Galloway Township – when the floors collapsed as workers poured cement on the deck.
On April 30 the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the lead investigator, is expected to issue a report on the collapse. It will focus on whether safety standards were adhered to on the construction site, although, necessarily what caused the collapse, according to OSHA spokeswoman Kate Dugan.
Mongeluzzi said he plans to hold, a press conference in the resort the day of the OSHA report.
The parties will be back in court May 20.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.