More Delays For Great White Station Fire Victims’ Settlements


November 18, 2008

Tracy Breton of the The Providence Journal reports that victims of The Station nightclub fire aren’t going to get any of their settlement money in time for Christmas.

It appears, in fact, that it will be next spring at the earliest, that any funds will be distributed.

A federal magistrate judge, David L. Martin, met this afternoon with lawyers for the victims and the dozens of parties they sued in connection with the February 2003 fire. Representatives of both sides said they’d reached agreement on the next steps to be followed as they try to wrap up the litigation.

Providence lawyer William A. Poore will be appointed special master on behalf of the 181 minors who are slated to receive part of the $176 million that has been offered to settle the 11 federal lawsuits brought by those who lost loved ones or suffered injuries in the fire. During the next 45 days, Poore will confer with a Duke University law professor who has devised a matrix for distributing the $176 million. His job will be to review the matrix to see if it seems fair to the minors.Then Poore will submit a report to the court and the professor, Francis E. McGovern, will submit his grid for court approval.

At some point later in the proceedings, the victims’ lawyers plan to ask the court to appoint Poore as guardian ad litem for the minors which will give him additional duties regarding the proposed distribution of funds.

Martin scheduled another status conference with all of the lawyers for Jan. 5 at 2 p.m.

Lawyers for the more than 300 plaintiffs who stand to receive settlement money had hoped to be able to distribute the funds by year’s end. But there have been some unexpected delays: Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux, who is presiding over the mass tort cases, has been out ill for several months, and some of the lawyers for the parties who have offered to settle are questioning whether more than one guardian ad litem should be appointed for the minors. They’ve expressed concern that some minors could try to re-open the lawsuits once they become adults to try to get additional compensation; they’ve told the court that they want protection against that happening.

In court today, Providence lawyer Mark Mandell, who represents many of the fire victims, told Martin that “we want to move this forward as much as we can.” Everyone, he said, is committed to effectuating a closure to this case “so our clients can get their measure of justice as soon as possible.” But there are still things that need to be done to wrap things up, he said.

The Feb. 20, 2003 fire at The Station in West Warwick was the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history. One hundred people died in the blaze; more than 200 others were injured. It started when fireworks set off inside the club by the rock band Great White ignited highly flammable foam that had been installed as soundproofing.

A host of defendants have offered money to settle the victims’ lawsuits.They include the owners of the nightclub, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian; the band that set off the pyrotechnics; the State of Rhode island and the Town of West Warwick, which were responsible for performing fire safety inspections at the nightclub; and some deep-pocket corporations that allegedly manufactured the foam that lined the walls of the club, and one of the concert’s sponsors, Anheuser-Busch.

Last month, The Providence Journal obtained a copy of the proposed distribution plan devised by McGovern. It would give everyone who sued a share of the $176 million, including those who suffered mental trauma but never sought medical treatment for their injuries.

Under the proposed plan that the victims have been asked to OK — which could be altered somewhat based on McGovern’s conversations with Poore — the survivors who were most badly burned and were hospitalized the longest will receive more money than several of the families who lost loved ones in the fire.

McGovern’s plan has not yet been submitted for court approval. None of the victims have been given precise figures from their lawyers on what they might actually receive once attorneys’ fees and expenses are subtracted. But some have been told that they can expect to receive several hundred thousand dollars while others may get less than $20,000. Others are expected to receive more than $1 million.

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