Real Estate and Property Law

Crane operator jailed in deadly Philadelphia building collapse; civil suits point finger at others

Following the fatal collapse last week of a building under demolition in Philadelphia, the crane operator is being held without bail on criminal charges.

Sean Benschop, 42, faces six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of recklessly endangering another person and one count of risking a catastrophe, reports CNN. Six people died and 13 were injured in Wednesday’s collapse.

His lawyer, Daine Grey, said Benschop is very remorseful but is being made a scapegoat for an accident.

Survivors began filing civil lawsuits on Thursday. Store clerk Nadine White filed an emergency Philadelphia Common Pleas Court motion to preserve evidence, and her lawyer, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, questioned whether a pre-demolition engineering survey required by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was ever completed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week.

“An adequately prepared engineering survey would not allow a building that’s being demolished to collapse on an adjacent structure,” Mongeluzzi said at a Thursday news conference.

White’s suit named as defendants Richard Basciano, who owns the four-story building on Market Street and his company, STB Investments Corp., as well as demolition contractor Griffin T. Campbell and his company, Griffin Campbell Construction, according to the Associated Press and the Inquirer.

F. Warren Jacoby, of Cozen O’Connor provided the newspaper with a statement on behalf of STB immediately after the collapse: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people affected by this tragic event,” it read. “Please know that we are committed to working with the City of Philadelphia and other authorities to determine what happened today.”

Initial news reports after the accident said the demolition project had been permitted and a city inspector had found no violations when he visited the site before demolition began. However, observers nearby told reporters that they had questioned–simply looking at what was going on–how the demolition could proceed without causing a wall to collapse or doing damage to the adjacent Salvation Army building, which bore the brunt of the damage.

The Associated Press and the Inquirer’s site had early stories about the accident.

Another Associated Press story says the Philadelphia City Council plans to form a special committee on Monday. It will examine city licensing and permitting requirements related to construction and demolition projects.

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