PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Now that a civil jury at Philadelphia City Hall has absorbed two days of lengthy opening statements from opposing counsel in the deadly 2013 Market Street building collapse case, testimony will begin today.
Plaintiff’s lawyers representing the surviving family members of the six people killed, as well as the 13-people who were hurt, will begin presenting evidence. Upwards of 150-names appear on the witness list for a trial that could take two to three months.
During lengthy opening statements which took two full days, jurors heard lawyers play the blame game. One plaintiff lawyer says the collapse was caused by a property manager and architect with no demolition experience along with an incompetent contractor. Two more plaintiffs lawyers contend the Salvation Army was grossly negligent for ignoring warnings about the threat of collapse.
Defense lawyers either pinned the collapse on a pot smoking excavator, or deflected blame away from the Salvation Army, the wealthy building owner, his property manager and the architect on the job.
Out of view of jurors in just the first two days, three different defense lawyers asked the judge several times for mistrials, because of the narratives used by plaintiff attorneys in their opening statements, all of which were denied. Plaintiff’s lawyers asked the judge to sanction defense lawyers, for the manner in which they portrayed the Salvation Army in the most favorable light.
The role of the Salvation Army played heavily on Tuesday. Defense lawyer Jack Snyder refuted plaintiff lawyer claims that the Salvation Army, his client, ignored property manager Thomas Simmonds’ warnings about the “threat to life and limb” in the days and weeks before the collapse at 22nd and Market Streets.
He contends Simmonds was only trying to get the Salvation Army to swap out its thrift store for another nearby location, so developer Richard Basciano could put up a block-long project. Snyder says even top city officials, like former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger ignored Simmonds’ rantings.
Out of view of jurors, plaintiff’s lawyer Andrew Stern complained that Snyder portrayed the Salvation Army as a saintly organization that “doesn’t have two nickels to rub together,” which he says creates an unfair impression to jurors deciding financial liability in this civil trial.