$30 million settlement in RI night club fire

May 12, 2008 2:49:27 PM PDT
Several foam manufacturers have agreed to pay $30 million to settle lawsuits brought by survivors and family members of those who died in a 2003 nightclub fire that killed 100 people, according to court papers filed Monday. The foam companies that agreed to settle include Leggett & Platt Inc. based in Carthage, Mo., Wm. T. Burnett & Co. based in Baltimore and several others.

More than $100 million has now been offered to victims of the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick from several companies, including past settlements with Home Depot, Clear Channel Broadcasting and fireworks makers.

The new settlements must be approved by the hundreds who have sued as well as the federal judge overseeing the case.

A Duke University law professor has been appointed to meet with survivors and victims' relatives to calculate a formula for how much money each person would receive under the settlements, based on the injuries they suffered.

Investigators blame flammable, egg-crate-style foam on the walls and ceiling of the club for fueling the fire, which was started when a pyrotechnics display for the rock band Great White ignited the soundproofing material.

It's still not clear which companies made the foam that was in the club. The foam was sold to club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian by American Foam Corp. in Johnston. American Foam, which has also been sued, bought foam from a handful of manufacturers. Tests were ongoing to help pinpoint the manufacturers.

Lawyers for the victims and the foam companies either declined to comment Monday or did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The victims' lawyers accuse the companies of failing to adequately test their foam before distributing or selling it and failing to educate users about the material's dangers.

The lawsuits allege that the foam was sold without any flame-retardant chemicals and produced "unreasonably dangerous toxic smoke and gases" once it was ignited. They said polyurethane foam was well-known throughout the industry as being flammable and not safe in places such as hotels and nightclubs.

The fire was the fourth-deadliest nightclub blaze in U.S. history. Besides the 100 people killed, more than 200 others were injured.

Former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele, who lit the pyrotechnics, served 22 months in prison after pleading guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was released in March. The Derderians pleaded no contest to the same charges, and Michael Derderian is currently serving a four-year sentence while his brother was spared jail time.

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