On October 19, 2013 a demolition contractor was charged with the deaths of six people who were killed after a wall his company was demolishing fell on a Salvation Army store in Philadelphia. Specifically, he was found guilty of six counts of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors claimed that the contractor controlled the work site and lied after the collapse to try and avoid liability after cutting corners on the job, which ultimately caused the accident.
Prosecutors argued and the court decided that the building was unstable because the contactor had “gutted” the support beams and joists in order to sell them. In doing so, he left the four-story walls unstable. Victims of the accident included individuals who were dropping off donations at the Salvation Army and those working at the site.
Some have placed the blame on the bid process, which rewards contracting bids that are as low as possible. In this case, the contractor’s bid for the work was a fraction of the other bids and arguably led him to cut corners on the project to save money, which eventually caused the catastrophe.
Philadelphia Demolition Requirements
The City of Philadelphia’s Demolition Requirements have always focused on asbestos inspection reports in order to prevent the unknowing disturbance of asbestos-containing material during demolition projects, as well as requiring business permits before beginning projects to demolish a structure and additional requirements such as tax clearance forms.
However, after this particular tragic incident, the city enacted new laws tightening building and demolition regulations. The five bills passed by Philadelphia City Council impose additional permitting, inspection, licensing, and construction requirements for demolition and building projects in the city.
Perhaps most relevant to the incident, the Department of Licenses and Inspections and the Fire Department now have supervisory authority over demolition projects and may issue a “stop” work order if there are unsafe or dangerous conditions. In addition, a safety-zone must be established when mechanical (versus hand-held) equipment is used and the equipment must first be approved by a professional engineer who is licensed/registered in Pennsylvania. Because it was an adjacent property that ultimately collapsed due to the wall being demolished, there are also now notice requirements for adjacent properties and at least four inspections that must take place during the demolition, as well as a separate inspection for adjacent properties.
Negligence, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Criminal Charges
The contractor was also convicted of risking a catastrophe, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault, demonstrating that personal injury and wrongful death claims can sometimes also overlap with criminal charges, as well as how seriously the courts take negligence that results in injury and/or death. The contractor now faces up to 20 years in prison and the families of the victims have filed civil lawsuits against all those involved.
Solnick & Associates
Construction sites are dangerous enough without negligent choices making them even more so. The Pennsylvania construction accident lawyers at Solnick & Associates represent victims of construction site accidents across Pennsylvania including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, Delaware County, and New Jersey. Contact us today for a free consultation so that we can help you.