Posts Tagged ‘fires’

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.

Deep pocket files: The Great White shakedown winds down

Sealed Air makes polyethylene foam for packaging material. The Great White plaintiffs allege that polyethylene foam in the soundproofing was part of the reason the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire spread so fast, killing 100–though they have no evidence that Sealed Air manufactured the foam in the club, not to mention the fact that the packing foam was never intended to be used as building material. Not to worry: with joint and several liability in Rhode Island, Sealed Air faced billions of dollars of potential liability because all of the other deep pockets (dozens of defendants ranging from a radio station to four other foam manufacturers to Anheuser-Busch to the bus that transported the band to the concert to a television station that covered the fire) have settled, Sealed Air couldn’t risk being held even 1% liable, especially given that at a trial plaintiffs would have no incentive to blame empty-chair or empty-pocket or settling defendants. Sealed Air will pay $25 million in protection money. (AP; Providence Journal; TortsProf). The miscarriage of justice continues, but the remaining defendants are apparently judgment-proof.

Deep Pockets File: Great White fire

Innocent bystanders have paid the bulk of settlements to date in the catastrophic fire caused by Great White’s pyrotechnic display that killed 100 people at The Station nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island. The latest victims are a television station, WPRI, and a cameraman who will contribute $30 million to a settlement fund: WPRI’s Brian Butler is accused of impeding the crowd’s exit through the front door, though Butler’s contemporaneous account suggests that he probably saved some lives at the time. “Dozens of defendants remain, including … Anheuser-Busch Inc., which sold beer at the concert; and Clear Channel Communications, which owns a Providence radio station which ran advertisements promoting the show.” (Andrea Estes, “Tentative deal set in R.I. fire case”, Boston Globe, Feb. 2; “Tentative $30 Million Settlement in Club Fire”, AP/NY Times, Feb. 2). Earlier: Feb. 2006 and Nov. 2 (Home Depot pays $5M for failure to warn, though their foam is different than the foam that caught on fire).

September 10 roundup

All-New England edition:

Chicago subway fire: pay up for terrorism fears

Personal injury lawyers filing the first lawsuits arising from a July 11 fire and derailment on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line “said their clients’ damages may be greater than normal due to initial fears that the accident was a terrorist attack.” Attorney Dan Kotin of Corboy & Demetrio, representing plaintiffs, “said the timing of the accident might have magnified their emotional distress. ‘Coming just hours after the subway bombings in India, these women were convinced that they were under attack,’ Kotin said.” Kotin’s clients were treated and released at a hospital at the time; how badly hurt are they now? “I think we’re going to learn over the course of time that the emotional suffering is far worse than the physical pain.” Oh. (Michael Higgins, “First lawsuits filed in subway fire”, Chicago Tribune, Jul. 12).

Dozens Added to Providence Nightclub Fire Suit

In 2003, a terrible fire in a Providence night club killed a hundred people and injured many more. The fire apparently started when Great White’s (the live band) pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing foam around the stage. The victims initially filed suit against “four dozen defendants, include club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele.” Biechele recently plead guilty to a hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter for igniting the pyrotechnics, and the club owners are fighting the same charges.

Now, as the statutory deadline (3 years apparently in Rhode Island) for new suits approaches, and perhaps given the disappointing depth of the current defendants’ pockets, the victims and their families have filed suit against “dozens” of others in the fire. The suit now names individual members of the band, the company that distributed the acoustic foam, and even Home Depot, for not “warning of the potential hazards” of the insulation they sold the club, despite the fact that the insulation Home Depot sold “is different from the foam ignited by the pyrotechnics”. (Eric Tucker, “New complaint filed in nightclub fire case”, Houston Chronicle, Feb 15)

Pop-Tart fire lawsuit

On June 1, 1998, Clark Seeley left the house while leaving Pop-Tarts heating in a toaster. Poor decision: there was a fire in the unattended toaster, and his house was damaged. Seeley blames not himself, but the toaster manufacturer. (The press doesn’t mention it, but Seeley’s insurance company initiated the suit before apparently settling.) The story is in the news now because (paging Peter Nordberg) the judge (probably correctly) held Wednesday that an expert’s study that a frosted-sugar pastry could conceivably start a toaster fire was admissible because it was falsifiable. The real question is why a court has let this case get to the stage where parties need to hire lawyers to supervise and submit reports from frosted-sugar pastry experts. (Michael Virtanen, “Judge Allows Expert on Pop-Tarts To Testify in Flaming Pastry Lawsuit”, AP/NY Sun, Dec. 17; Liberty Mutual Ins. v. Hamilton-Beach, 1:99-cv-01162-LEK-DRH (N.D.N.Y.)) The maker of Pop-Tarts was not sued, perhaps because the box warns consumers not to leave pastries unattended in the toaster. (Sean Carter, “Pop-torts”, November 2, 2001). Previous suit: Jul. 30, 2001. Update: New York Lawyer weighs in. (John Caher, “Engineer Ruled Expert Witness in Flaming Pop-Tart Case”, Dec. 21).