PHILADELPHIA — The family of a truck driver who died of heart disease weeks after he survived a deadly building collapse in Philadelphia filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday linking his death to the catastrophe.
Danny C. Johnson, 59, spent an hour buried in the rubble last year and suffered a mild heart attack at the scene, the lawsuit said. The event exacerbated his pre-existing heart problems and asthma, and he died after several hospitalizations over 23 days, the family's lawyer said.
Johnson, of Philadelphia, has previously been listed as one of 13 survivors of the collapse, which killed six others, and is blamed on shoddy demolition work being done next door. Johnson was shopping at a downtown Salvation Army thrift store when a towering brick wall collapsed onto the store, burying 19 people in rubble.
"When an individual walks into the Salvation Army as a healthy, breathing individual, and a building falls on him and he has a heart attack, I think the link is pretty clear," family lawyer Jeff Goodman said Tuesday.
The lawsuit is the first time that Johnson's death on June 28, 2013, has been attributed to the June 5 collapse. Johnson's wife and five children waited to file suit until autopsy and forensic tests were completed, their lawyer said.
"We reviewed all the medical records, and analyzed them, so we could see what turned out to be pretty clear — that Mr. Johnson would still be alive today if not for the collapse and the conduct of the defendants," Goodman said.
His firm represents two other families who lost someone in the collapse, along with six survivors.
The various defendants in the Common Pleas Court case in Philadelphia include two demolition contractors, redeveloper Richard Basciano and the Salvation Army. Lawyers for the defendants either declined comment or did not immediately return messages Tuesday.
The two contractors, Griffin Campbell and Sean Benschop, also face third-degree manslaughter and other criminal charges for allegedly ignoring safe practices before the unsupported brick wall crushed the adjacent thrift store. One of them was allegedly operating machinery while impaired by marijuana and painkillers, prosecutors say.
Lawyers for the two contractors, both currently in jail, have called their clients scapegoats in the case.
Basciano, who chose Campbell's cut-rate bid for the work, has not been charged. His architect was given immunity in exchange for his grand jury testimony.
The Johnson family lawsuit could bring the number of deaths linked to the collapse to eight. A city building inspector who had once inspected the site committed suicide days after the collapse.