By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A judge who is handling the many civil lawsuits resulting from last June’s fatal building collapse near 22nd and Market Streets is going to allow attorneys to begin collecting evidence related to the case.

The ongoing grand jury investigation of the building collapse complicates the ability of attorneys in the numerous civil suits to begin what is called “discovery.”

Judge Mark Bernstein, who is overseeing at least ten civil suits filed by victims so far, had originally stopped all discovery, but now he will allow documents to be turned over.

“Judge Bernstein struck the right balance between protecting the rights of the accused and allowing civil litigation to go forward,” says Robert Mongeluzzi, a victims’ attorney.  “This is going to be a long, arduous journey.  And Judge Bernstein today ordered that we could get on our way.  And we will.”

Steven Wigrizer, attorney for the family of Mary Simpson, who was among the six people killed in the collapse, says prompt discovery is always key.

“It’s absolutely important that we obtain documents as soon possible because, you know, documents can disappear.  It’s very important that witnesses be identified before they disappear.  So this order today allows us to get started on that road, and we’re very pleased with that,” Wigrizer tells KYW Newsradio.

The judge also allowed the deposition of one of the surviving victims, Mariya Plekan, who lost the lower half of her body and remains hospitalized.  Her attorney, Andrew Stern, is relieved.

“I really needed to be sure that I had the opportunity to preserve her testimony in the event something happens to her,” he said today.  “As her surgeon has described, there’s a period of time where she’s at risk of sudden death.  If she gets through this period, she has a good probability of having a normal life expectancy in terms of length of life.  But right now, she is at significant risk for sudden death, so I’m happy we’ll have the opportunity to preserve her testimony.”

Six people died and 14 others were injured in the collapse, which happened when a building being demolished fell onto the neighboring Salvation Army Thrift Shop.


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