Young Pianist Critically Injured in Building Collapse

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Before the Collapse (source: Google Images)

Common Ground Building Collapse Rubble
After the Collapse

On November 4, 2018, 22-year old Sonya Bandouil was seriously injured as she and her boyfriend were walking along Harvard Street in Allston - an area of Boston popular with college students and young people - when the concrete top of a one-story building facade collapsed and buried her under large, heavy chunks of concrete. Surveillance camera videos show Sonya and her boyfriend, Alex Pankiewicz walking past the entrance to the Common Ground Bar and Grill and stopping to read the menu at another restaurant in the same building when the upper facade of the building suddenly came crashing down.  Alex and passersby frantically cleared away large chunks of concrete and rubble to free Sonya. A nurse practitioner who witnessed the collapse from her car rendered first aid at the scene before the arrival of EMTs.

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Watch the Video and Read the Story in the Boston Globe

According to the witness's statement to The Boston Globe, Sonya’s hand appeared to be crushed. She also had cuts on her head and could not feel her legs. The victim’s boyfriend, who was also injured, was more worried about his girlfriend—her hand, in particular, since she was an accomplished pianist. "He had some blood on his arm but he was just so concerned about her he ignored it," the witness said. "He kept asking if she’s going to be able to play again. He was clearly heartbroken." Both victims were taken to the hospital.

Potential Causes
Structural engineers who examined the site of the Allston collapse came to the conclusion that "years of deterioration had weakened the building’s facade." The Boston Globe further reported, "the decay was believed to have been triggered from water that got into the structure and then expanded during the freeze-thaw cycle."

Experts believe another contributing factor may have been strong winds. The building’s parapet had a sign attached to it which may have caught the wind, the swaying movement of which further separated the material connecting the facade to the building.

Lack of Mandatory Inspections
One of the engineers and author of the Allston collapse report, Bob Freel, told The Globe that he believes low-rise buildings should be inspected regularly to avoid these types of accidents. In addition, Michael Peterman, an architect and co-chair of the international materials organization ASTM's (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials) facade inspection task group, doesn’t believe there are any cities that currently require facade inspections for low-rise buildings.

Previous Sudden Brick and Concrete Failures
The Common Ground facade collapse is only one of the more recent, growing number of similar accidents. 6 other buildings in the Boston area have experienced unexpected facade collapses within the past 15 months.

And it’s not limited to the Boston area - just over a week following the Allston collapse, the front of a 115-year-old building toppled over in downtown Russellville, Alabama, barely missing the building owner and a small child. In August 2018, bricks from the front wall of an art gallery in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood crumbled onto the sidewalk and into the street causing traffic to be rerouted. And tragically in 2015, a 2-year-old girl died after she and her grandmother were crushed beneath stone and debris when an eighth-floor window ledge fell from a Manhattan building.

Facades in the northeastern United States may be more susceptible to unexpected collapses because of the combination of the age of the buildings and the rain-freeze-thaw cycle of the climate, both of which can accelerate the deterioration.

Facade Ordinances
Many cities around the country, Boston included, require buildings over a specific height to undergo regular facade inspections. As of now, however, inspections are typically not mandatory for low-rise structures such as the Common Ground building in Allston. "The obligation to maintain the buildings falls on the owner," Quincy Building Commissioner Jay Duca told The Boston Herald. "There’s no inspection of a parapet unless they’re doing work on it or on the roof."

According to facadeordinance.com, only buildings taller than 70 feet or those deemed a high-rise structure require inspection. Inspections of building facades on structures up to 125 feet can be "performed visually with the aid of binoculars or other equipment, or from adjacent structures, etc. Facades higher than 125 feet above grade shall include a close-range visual inspection consisting of at least one drop per facade. Inspection of an occupied structure is required at least once every five years and once per year for unoccupied structures. Inspection reports are required to be written by a registered architect or engineer."

With the increase in facade collapses, it would be in the best interest of cities to begin requiring more frequent inspections on the exteriors of older buildings of all heights.

Kreindler & Kreindler LLP
Boston partner Anthony Tarricone and the Kreindler legal team, working with co-counsel Muhammad Aziz of the Houston law firm Abraham Watkins, represent Sonya Bandouil and Alex Pankiewicz in legal claims arising from the building collapse. They are continuing their intensive investigation into the cause of the Common Ground façade collapse and the broader issue of aging, failing and dangerous concrete facades and parapets.  Regardless of what particular conditions and circumstances are found to have played a causative role in the Common Ground façade collapse, the legal team is confident that property owners and managers in Massachusetts are legally obligated to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, regardless of the source of the danger.  The age of the building and type of construction are such that frequent, periodic inspection of the structural integrity of the building is called for to prevent injury to unsuspecting members of the public in the building or on the adjacent public sidewalk.