Zarwin Baum Obtains 1% Liability Verdict in Historic Market Street Collapse Trial
February 21, 2017
Bryan P. Werley, a shareholder in our Philadelphia office, recently completed the historic civil trial arising from the tragic collapse of a four story building and destruction of the adjacent Salvation Army thrift store located in downtown Philadelphia during the summer of 2013. Suit was filed by customers, employees and the estates of customers and employees injured or killed inside the store during the morning hours of June 5, 2013. The trial commenced with jury selection in early September, 2016. The liability verdict in this case, which was bifurcated between liability and damages, was rendered during the waning days of January, 2017. It is believed this was the longest civil jury trial in the history of Philadelphia.
Mr. Werley defended Griffin Campbell, the demolition contractor hired to perform the demolition of the four story structure which abutted the Salvation Army. Campbell was tried and convicted of six counts of involuntary manslaughter, causing a catastrophe and aggravated assault prior to the commencement of the civil trial. Also sued were the excavator operator, the building’s owners, and an architect that served as the owners’ representative on the project. The Salvation Army was also a named Defendant. Campbell’s liability was predetermined as a matter of law in light of the criminal convictions, but Werley defended Campbell vigorously at trial as there were still questions of whether Campbell acted extremely and outrageously and what percentage of fault should be assigned to Campbell during the apportionment phase of the jury’s deliberations.
During the trial, Campbell was accused of not only being utterly incompetent, but one Co-Defendant’s counsel went so far as to say Campbell slaughtered the victims of the collapse. Werley humanized Campbell, while at the same time credibly identified alternate theories and explanations which had not been heard by the jury in the criminal trial.
Echoing the Plaintiffs’ various theories against the owner and Salvation Army, Werley bolstered the credibility of his client while navigating a complicated trial strategy designed to minimize the apportionment of liability to his client. Following months of trial, experts which included world renowned engineers, retail experts, construction experts and others, the jury delivered a verdict on liability that vindicated his client, confirming Campbell’s testimony and belief that others shared in responsibility for this tragedy. The jury apportioned Mr. Campbell with 1% of the causative negligence (the legal minimum required given the criminal convictions), assessing the remainder to Campbell’s Co-Defendants. The jury further found that the excavator operator, the building owner, the owner’s representative, and the Salvation Army all acted extremely and outrageously, but determined Campbell had not.
The case settled during the first few days of the damages trial for what is believed to be the largest state court personal injury settlement in the history of the Commonwealth.
Werley’s trial team included D. Deone Powell, Esquire, a senior associate in the Casualty Defense Department at Zarwin Baum, who sat second chair with Mr. Werley throughout the liability phase of trial as well as Ross J. Di Bono II, Esquire and Katelyn T. Czarnick, Esquire, both associates at Zarwin Baum.