ATLANTIC CITY - Calling it the largest settlement of its kind, lawyers for the construction workers caught in the October 2003 parking-garage collapse at the Tropicana Casino Resort announced last night that they had resolved all legal claims against the casino and the project's contractors for $101 million.
Four men were killed and about two dozen others injured when the top five decks of what was intended to be a 10-story, 2,400-space garage in the center of this gambling mecca came crashing down in an avalanche of concrete and steel.
Standing near the site, where a new garage has arisen, plaintiffs' attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said the victims and their families would never fully recover from the deadliest accident in Atlantic City casino history.
But what he described as the largest personal-injury settlement in the region and the largest construction-accident settlement in the nation will help them move on, he said.
"We stand before you today remembering the men who were lost," Mongeluzzi said. "The scars will never heal."
Said fellow plaintiffs' attorney Paul d'Amato: "Let us hope this will be the last casino project that will be rushed on the bones of construction workers."
The lawyers said 36 plaintiffs would share the $101 million, which includes $82.5 million in cash and $8.3 million for medical expenses. The money will be divided case by case through arbitration, they said.
Under the agreement, 16 defendants - Tropicana; Keating Building Corp. of Philadelphia, the general contractor; Fabi Construction of Egg Harbor Township, which did the concrete work; and various architects, engineers, subcontractors and insurers - will pay the settlement.
The amount from each was unavailable last night, Mongeluzzi said. When pressed, he said: "If we had tried this case, the clear message we were going to give to the jury was that this was Trop's project and Keating built it."
Officials for both companies were contrite yesterday.
"Tropicana is grateful that the litigation surrounding this tragic event has been resolved, and that we can participate meaningfully in the resolution," casino officials said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with all the families involved."
Keating said in a statement: "This has always been about making things right with the families, and we hope this helps provide some measure of closure."
An employee answering Fabi's phone yesterday evening said that he knew nothing about the settlement, and that everybody else had left for the day.
The settlement came two months before the case was scheduled to go to trial, and almost 31/2 years after the collapse made national headlines.
It happened Oct. 30, 2003, as workers poured concrete on the top deck. The garage, part of a ritzy $265 million expansion called The Quarter, came crashing down in a stunning cascade of concrete, steel and falling construction workers.
Killed were ironworkers Michael Wittland, 53, of Pleasantville; and James Bigelow, 29, of Egg Harbor Township; and concrete workers Scott Pietrosante, 21, of Buena Vista Township; and Robert Tartaglio Jr., 42, of Galloway Township. Dozens more were injured, and hundreds were sent running for safety.
The results of a six-month investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration pointed to a project flawed in design, execution and oversight, one in which basic principles of construction and engineering were broken or overlooked.
OSHA officials found that the contractors had failed to install critical steel connections between the garage decks and an outer wall, and had not provided a strong enough support system to brace the concrete decks while they cured.
The federal agency in April 2004 fined Keating, Fabi, Mitchell Bar Placement of Sewell, and Site-Blauvelt Engineers of Mount Laurel a total of almost $120,000. Fabi, which was cited for six of nine total violations, including one "willful," was ordered to pay most of that - $98,500.
At the time, victims and their families said the penalties were too mild for failures that not only were deadly, but preventable.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs yesterday said the doomed project was being rushed to compete with the upscale Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
"The floors were not connected to the wall. It's as simple as that," Mongeluzzi said last night. "This is a shocking outrageous oversight and it cost four men their lives."
Oct. 7, 2006, Queens, N.Y.: One person is killed and two are injured as concrete is poured in a four-story building.
Oct. 17, 2005, Las Vegas: Seven workers are hurt when supports holding the second floor of a 45-story tower collapse.
Nov. 15, 2002, Rockville, Md.: A seven-story parking garage collapses, killing three workers and critically injuring another.
Feb. 11, 2000, Kimmel Center, South Broad Street: Eight construction workers are injured when scaffolding collapses.
July 14, 1999, Miller Park, Milwaukee: Three construction workers are killed and five injured when a crane and the 450-ton roof piece it is lifting collapse at the major-league stadium.
July 21, 1998, Times Square, Manhattan: The collapse of a construction elevator at the Conde Nast building rains tons of steel onto the streets, killing an 85-year-old woman and forcing a large swath of Manhattan to close for almost a week.
July 27, 1997, Portland (Ore.) International Airport: Three workers are killed at a parking garage when steel girders collapse.
April 23, 1987, L'Ambiance Plaza, Bridgeport, Conn.: Twenty-eight ironworkers are killed and 16 injured at a 16-story apartment building.