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July 08, 2016

Lawsuits in accident deaths of concertgoers allege taxi driver was 'ticking time bomb'

Lawyers for victims' families claim Gabbay family operates three fleets of unsafe taxicabs that are the subject of more than 50 complaints on file with a state regulator

Courts Accidents
07082016_Taxi_Cab_fatal_panel Source/Court exhibits

Amanda DiGirolomo, 24, of Phoenixville, Chester County, inset, was struck and killed by a taxi cab on Broad Street at Arch overnight on Labor Day in 2015. Her family, and the family of a young man who also killed in the crash, are suing the taxi cab company as well as two nightclubs that allegedly served them alcohol when they were "visibly and obviously intoxicated."

Last year on Labor Day weekend, a taxicab driven by a man described in two lawsuits as a “ticking time bomb” was traveling at more than twice the speed limit when he struck two pedestrians crossing Broad Street near City Hall.

The body of Amanda DiGirolomo, 24, of Phoenixville, Chester County, was launched 100 feet. She was pronounced dead by medics at 4:40 a.m. at the scene. The other victim, Bryan Botti, 25, of Baltimore, was taken by ambulance to Hahnemann University Hospital, where he died 30 minutes later.

Hours earlier, DiGirolomo and Botti had been among the 130,000 revelers who attended the Made in America concert staged over two days on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The event featured headliners Beyonce and Nick Jonas, as well as the alternative rock band, Death Cab for Cutie.

In Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, the Labor Day tragedy has resulted in two wrongful death suits filed against Jacob Gabbay, the owner of the cab involved in the fatal crash, as well as six members of the Gabbay family.

The lawsuits claim that the Gabbays operate three fleets of unsafe taxicabs that have been the subject of more than 50 complaints on file with the state Public Utility Commission. Meanwhile, according to the lawsuits, Arthur English, the purported “ticking time bomb” of a cabdriver, is alleged to have been the subject of multiple traffic citations, as well as seven previous civil lawsuits, and eight previous accidents, including a “rear-end collision,” a “swerving collision incident,” and a “chain reaction car accident.”

The two wrongful death suits were filed against the seven Gabbay family members, as well as a dozen companies owned by the Gabbays. The lawsuits contend the Gabbay Family Enterprise operates as a criminal conspiracy.

The defendants include three taxicab companies, the Rosemont Taxi Cab Co. Inc., the Germantown Cab Co. and Bennett Cab Services, plus two limousine services, Five Star Limousine Services Inc. and Black Time Limousine Services, and a dispatch service, Medallion Radio Dispatch Inc.

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Bryan Botti, 25, of Baltimore, was the captain of the varsity lacrosse team at Washington College for two years. He graduated with a degree in business management, and was a senior operations associate at Brown Advisory in his hometown.

All six companies all share the same address, at 800 Chestnut St. Other Gabbay businesses cited as defendants in the lawsuits include the Penn Body Shop Inc., of 4800 Germantown Ave., which maintains all taxis owned by the Gabbays; and Belfield Car Sales Inc., of 5350 Belfield Ave., a used car dealership that purchases old cars and converts them into taxis, according to the lawsuits.

The lawsuits describe Jacob Gabbay as “the patriarch, leader and de facto CEO of the Gabbay Family Enterprise.” Other Gabbay family members listed as defendants in the lawsuits include Gabbay’s son, Joseph; sister-in-law, Dalia; brother, Morris; daughter, Michelle, daughter, Tiffany Karsenty; and son-in-law Avihay Karsenty.

Brett Berman, a lawyer for Fox Rothschild LLP, represents the Gabbays both as individuals as well as their companies, directed his comments at the plaintiffs’ attempts to pierce the corporate veil.

“We do not believe that the plaintiffs have asserted legally sufficient claims” against any of the defendants, he said, with the exception of Rosemont Taxi, the owner of the cab that was involved in the fatal accident that resulted in the deaths of DiGirolomo and Botti.

“We plan on vigorously defending all of these non-Rosemont claims,” Berman said.

The lawsuits also name as defendants two Center City after-hours clubs, the Voyeur Night Club at 1221 St. James St., and Drinker’s Pub, at 1903 Chestnut St. According to the allegations in the lawsuits, both clubs negligently and recklessly served DiGirolomo and Botti drinks hours before they were killed, even though the two were “visibly intoxicated.”

Ralph Luongo, a lawyer for the Voyeur Club, declined comment. A lawyer for Drinker’s Pub could not be reached.

But in preliminary objections filed in Common Pleas Court, John Evans, a lawyer for Drinker’s Pub, asked the court to “strike all claims for punitive and exemplary damages” because of “insufficient specificity.”

In his preliminary objections Evans stated that the plaintiffs had failed to explain how the conduct of Drinker’s Pub on Labor Day was “reckless,” and how the pub acted with “evil motive or reckless indifference to justify punitive damages.”

A HISTORY OF SAFETY VIOLATIONS

The two wrongful death suits contend that Jacob Gabbay presides over an outlaw operation that endangers the lives of the “unwary public.”

“The Gabbay Family Enterprise has consistently been cited for safety violations by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, as well as the Philadelphia Parking Authority concerning the shameful maintenance of its taxicab fleet and the reckless management and supervision of its taxicab drivers,” wrote George Bochetto, David P. Heim, Vincent van Laar, and Jeffrey Ogren, lawyers for the DiGirolomo family, in a civil action complaint filed May 27, 2016 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

“Despite numerous warnings, complaints, citations and extensive fines, the Gabbay Family Enterprise has continuously failed to adhere to the PUC/PPA regulations in obvious and reckless disregard for the safety of the public,” the lawyers contend in that complaint.

“What is more, the Gabbay Family Enterprise is grossly underinsured, and purposely structured in a fragmented, undercapitalized way,” the lawyers wrote. It was all done “as part of an overall conspiracy to fraudulently conceal the Gabbay Family Enteprise’s substantial assets from those members of the public who are seriously injured, maimed or even killed by Gabby taxicabs,” the lawyers wrote.

“For this reason, Plaintiff also seeks to pierce the corporate veils of the corporate defendants making up the Gabbay Family Enterprise,” the lawyers wrote in the complaint, to reach the personal assets of Gabbay family members.

The plaintiff’s lawyers contend that the Gabbay Family Enterprise “has structured their conglomerate so that there can be little recovery other than $15,000 in statutory minimum liability insurance. “

“The cabs are usually worn out, having at least 100,000 to 200,000 miles on them,” the lawyers allege in the complaint. The family’s cabs have been cited for violations that include operating with: broken speedometers, odometers, and horns, as well as loose steering wheels, nearly bald tires, completely bald tires, and flat tires; missing seat belts, broken mirrors and airbags, in addition to missing tail lights and headlights.

The Gabbay family’s cabs have also been repeatedly cited for operating with unlicensed drivers or drivers who have suspended licenses, as well as unlicensed drivers with criminal records.

'VISIBLY AND OBVIOUSLY INTOXICATED' 

Amanda DiGirolomo attended the Made In America concert on the Sunday before Labor Day, arriving between 2 and 2:30 p.m. and staying until it ended between 10:30 and 11 p.m. At the concert she “consumed several alcoholic beverages,” according to the lawsuit filed by her family.

Botti arrived at the concert at 4 p.m., and stayed until the closing. Sometime during the concert, DiGirolomo got separated from her friends and met Botti and his group of friends.

“Amanda had become separated from her friends and was looking for them. Bryan offered to help find her friends and told her that he would stay with her until she found them,” according to the lawsuit filed by Robert L. Sachs Jr., on behalf of the Botti family.

While they were searching for DiGirolomo’s friends, DiGirolomo and Botti visited two after-hours clubs where they were served several drinks, even though both were “visibly intoxicated,” the two lawsuits allege.

At Drinker’s Pub, which advertises itself as a place with a friendly atmosphere, “amazing drink specials and no cover charge,” DiGirolomo was “served a shot of grape vodka and Red Bull that was purchased by Bryan.” In two hours, Amanda was served “several more drinks by the same bartender, even though she was ‘visibly and obviously intoxicated,’ the lawsuit filed by her family alleges.

The lawsuit further alleges that the “visible signs of Amanda’s intoxication were reflected in her demeanor and speech, which were reported to be loud, boisterous, and overly friendly, as well as her lack of coordination.” At Drinker’s Pub, DiGirolomo and “other members of her group were dancing, singing along with songs, excessively laughing, and were thus in an obvious state of visible intoxication,” the lawsuit contends.

Those visible signs of intoxication exhibited by both DiGirolomo and Botti, included “an inability to focus and sustain eye contact, a rambling train of thought, and acting restless,” the two lawsuits allege. “Despite these obvious, visible signs of intoxication, Drinker’s Pub nevertheless served and continued to serve” both DiGirolomo and Botti with alcohol, the lawsuit states.

Near closing time, at 2 a.m., DiGirolomo and Botti took an Uber ride to the Voyeur Night Club, which promotes itself as “Philly’s upscale answer to the local nightclub scene.” The club claims to provide the “ultimate VIP experience” where patrons “mingle with some of the city’s sexiest singles and rub shoulders with VIPs all night long.”

According to the lawsuit filed by DiGirolomo’s family, DiGirolomo had a “blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit” at the time of the accident.

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Lawsuits filed by the families of Amanda DiGirolomo and Bryan Botti allege that Drinker's Pub, above, and the Voyeur NIght Club negligently and recklessly served drinks to DiGirolomo and Botti hours before they were struck and killed by a speeding taxi, even though both were “visibly intoxicated.”


STRUCK 'WITH TREMENDOUS FORCE'

At 4:30 a.m. on Monday, DiGirolomo and Botti were walking across Broad Street, at Arch Street, in Center City when a Rosemont taxi approached, traveling north on Broad.

The 2007 Ford Crown Victoria driven by 41-year-old Arthur English was moving at more than 50 mph in a 25 mph speed zone when the cab struck the two pedestrians “with tremendous force,” the lawsuits allege. The accident resulted in the windshield of the taxi being “shattered and broken,” according to the lawsuits.

English had been the subject of a traffic court judgment initiated by the city of Philadelphia, as well as seven civil suits, the two lawsuits allege. One of those civil suits was filed by the Gabbays’ own Germantown Cab company against English, to recover $1,796 in fines he accumulated while driving for Five Star Limousine and Germantown Cab.

English did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In addition to his traffic court judgment and civil suits, English had previously been arrested for driving while intoxicated and had his license suspended in 2009, allege the wrongful death lawsuits filed by the victims’ families.

The lawsuit filed by the DiGirolomo family alleges that English’s conduct was “grossly negligent,” displaying a “wanton disregard for the welfare and safety of others,” including the two victims.

“Despite Arthur English’s numerous traffic accidents and poor driving history spanning almost a decade, which included the Gabbays having to sue him in order to recover for damages from accidents and traffic violations, the Gabbay Family Enterprise negligently hired Arthur English to operate taxicabs on public roads,” the DiGirolomo lawsuit contends.

English has not been charged in the double-fatal accident, which remains under investigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, according to spokesman Cameron Kline.

TWO BRIGHT FUTURES

Amanda DiGirolomo was a “talented, athletic and vibrant young woman,” the lawsuit filed by her family said. She had worked as a wellness and fitness specialist who volunteered to help others at the Phoenixville YMCA. When she died, she had successfully passed the American College of Sports Medicine Certified Trainer Exam and was planning to attend graduate school.

Botti, who grew up in a suburb of Baltimore, was the captain of the varsity lacrosse team at Washington College for two years. He graduated with a degree in business management. He was a senior operations associate at Brown Advisory in Baltimore. “Bryan’s future was extremely bright,” said the lawsuit filed by Botti’s family.

In the accident, Botti suffered “fractures in his basal skull, tibia, fibula, occipital and parietal bones” and DiGirolomo suffered “fractured bones” and “serious external and internal injuries,” according to the lawsuits.

In a 2011 letter to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission, Joseph Gabbay of the Germantown Cab Co. described his family, led by his father, Jacob, as a classic American success story.

“With my sisters Michelle and Tiffany, we grew up in an honest and loving family,” Joseph Gabbay wrote. “My parents came to the United States as teenagers with a dream to make a decent living and raise a family.”

“My parents were fortunate enough to have their ventures grow into successful companies owning real estate and taxicabs,” Joseph Gabbay wrote. “Today, our family has taken one of the most inadequate areas of the city and turned it into one of the finest served areas in the Philadelphia area while simultaneously creating a multitude of jobs in a highly unemployed area.”

His parents, he wrote, “taught us how to love what we did,” and how “to run a successful cab company.” In addition, Joseph Gabbay wrote, his parents “have created a passion in our hearts for our community.”

But the company has frequently run afoul of authorities.

On April 7, 2006, the Philadelphia Parking Authority notified the Germantown Cab Co. that they had until the close of business on April 19, 2006, to pay an outstanding balance of $60,000 in fees and fines, including outstanding parking violations, or the PPA would revoke their certificate of public convenience.

Now, the Gabbays have problems in civil court. Both wrongful death suits seek damages in excess of $50,000, plus punitive damages.

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