Station nightclub fire: government defendants settle

The state of Rhode Island and town of West Warwick, the last major defendants left in the lawsuits over the Station/Great White fire, agreed to throw $10 million apiece into the settlement pot, which now reaches $175 million, to compensate the 200 injured and survivors of the 100 killed in the 2003 blaze. The town of West Warwick, population just under 30,000, is expected to have to borrow heavily to enable its payment; it has a $4 million insurance policy, but defense litigation costs will be deducted before any of that money is made available for the settlement (RedOrbit/ProJo, more, AP/Firefighting News via Childs).

Dozens of private companies named in the suits had settled earlier, including many with peripheral or remote connections to the calamity, such as beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch, which together with a beer distributor agreed to pay $21 million, and radio operator Clear Channel, which paid $22 million. West Warwick will wind up paying much less than that, although its negligent contribution to the disaster (in failing to enforce key provisions of its own fire code) would appear immeasurably greater. Earlier posts here.


  • So are taxpayers better off if there is no fire code to fail to enforce? I’m not sure I buy the theory of liability.

  • I’m not endorsing the theory of liability either; for one thing, I’m not sure what local versions of sovereign immunity may apply. If we’re talking about (non-courtroom) efforts to assess blame realistically, though, I’m not surprised that victim families would be furious at the town’s officialdom for having promulgated a fire code and then failed to enforce its most elementary provisions. (Flammable foam ignored, occupancy limits boosted twice and then violated anyway, building mistakenly treated as not in sprinkler category.) By contrast, no one seems to be able to show that the beer defendants or Clear Channel or Home Depot committed any sin other than being in the vicinity with deep pockets. And so the West Warwick fire marshal/inspector, backed by his union and protected by indulgent state laws, recently retired on disability after facing few if any consequences; more or less innocent town taxpayers wind up paying a hefty bill; entirely innocent beer and radio investors pay the most of all. Not what I would call justice.