Settlement in deadly RI nightclub fire

September 3, 2008 12:07:25 PM PDT
The owners of a nightclub where a 2003 fire killed 100 people have reached a tentative $813,000 settlement with survivors and relatives of those killed, the latest in a flurry of agreements made in the last year to resolve lawsuits over the deadly blaze. The settlement offer from Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, revealed in court papers Wednesday, will be covered by their insurance policy; the brothers have received bankruptcy protection that shielded them from lawsuits.

More than $175 million has now been offered by dozens of defendants to the more than 300 people suing over the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick. It began when pyrotechnics ignited cheap packaging foam the Derderians had installed as soundproofing.

Members of Great White, the 1980s rock band whose tour manager shot off the pyrotechnics at the start of a concert, agreed to a separate $1 million settlement in court papers filed Tuesday. The band's insurer is covering the settlement.

"In terms of the case itself, really, the plaintiffs are closing the circle here," said Anthony DeMarco, a lawyer for the Derderians.

The settlement still requires the approval of the federal bankruptcy court, the judge overseeing the lawsuits and the hundreds of people who are suing.

The Derderians were accused in the lawsuits of operating an unsafe nightclub, where an exit door swung the wrong way, overcrowding was permitted and foam that experts said burned like gasoline lined the walls near the stage.

The brothers did not admit any wrongdoing under the settlement, but have apologized in court to victims and have said they had no idea the foam was flammable.

The Derderians in 2006 resolved criminal charges against them by pleading no contest to 100 counts each of 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison and will be released on parole next year; Jeffrey Derderian was spared prison time and was given probation and community service.

The only other person criminally charged in the fire was Great White's tour manager, Daniel Biechele. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and was paroled in March after serving less than half of his four-year prison sentence.

The Derderians sought bankruptcy protection in 2005, estimating their debts at more than $100 million. The bankruptcy filing allowed them to avoid what could have been a hugely expensive jury verdict if the case had gone to trial.


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