Victims of Versailles Disaster File NIS 200 Million Lawsuit

Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent
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Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent

A group of 225 victims of the 2001 Versailles wedding hall disaster Thursday filed a damages lawsuit estimated at NIS 200 million against the state, the Jerusalem municipality, Pal-Kal engineer Eli Ron and others at the Jerusalem District Court.

The third-story floor of Jerusalem's Versailles banquet hall collapsed on May 24, 2001, during the wedding of Keren and Asaf Dror. Hundreds of people dancing during the celebration plunged three floors as the floor and parts of the building collapsed, killing 23 and wounding more than 350.

"This lawsuit is about contempt to human life and body," said attorney Asaf Posner, who presented the lawsuit. "All the bodies being sued were aware of the risk in the construction method and in this building in particular, and of the repeated violations of regulations and the additional risk in this specific property, yet nobody spoke up until the terrible disaster... everyone is trying to shift the responsibility to others," he said.

The plaintiffs, comprised of relatives of people who died in the disaster as well as those who were physically injured and psychologically affected, said municipality, urban, regional and state construction committees permitted, or failed to prevent, the construction and use of the building, "and thus caused the disaster."

Defendants of the lawsuit include, Ron, who invented the Pal-Kal method, engineers Uri Pessah, Dan Sheffer, Shimon Kaufman, and contractor Ya'akov Adiv, who built the building, Versailles' owners, the companies that managed the hall and their insurance firms.

The Institute for Building Research, the Technion and the Standards Institute were also attached as defendants for "enabling the use of the Pal-Kal method by giving the inventor what was seen as an approval to the method, thus placing a loaded pistol in his hand," the lawsuit said.

Many of the defendants are still facing criminal charges in the affair.

The lawsuit comes a little more than a week after the release of the state inquiry commission's report on the safety of public buildings headed by Judge Vardi Zeiler. The plaintiffs attached the Zeiler report to their lawsuit and are demanding to consider it an admission by the state and the Jerusalem regional construction committee, which cannot deny the report's findings.

Criminal charges against Ron and the other engineers also were attached to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs said they constitute the state's admission of the facts included in the charges.

The plaintiffs are demanding compensation for pain and suffering, shortening of livelihood expectancy, loss of income, loss of pension rights, loss of mobility, medical treatments, medication, accessories, psychological or psychiatric treatment, and help for children's studies.

"The circumstances of the event, including the fact that it was supposed to be extremely joyous, should lead to the conclusion that especially high damages should be allocated," the lawsuit says.

"The fact that the event caused massive damage to so many added to the victims' pain and suffering, since the victims are close relatives and friends, which prevented speedy recovery in a supportive environment among friends and relatives who were not hurt." Ron's attorney, Rami Kargula, said the fact that the Jerusalem municipality and Technion were also sued is not surprising.

Standards Institute Director Ziva Patir said the institute not only did not approve the Pal-Kal method, but always banned it in all its standards.