Home Depot, Conn. Insulation Firm Settle R.I. Nightclub Fire Claims

November 2, 2007

Home Depot Inc. and a Connecticut insulation company have tentatively agreed to a $5 million settlement in lawsuits brought by survivors of a 2003 Rhode Island nightclub fire and relatives of the 100 people killed, a lawyer for the families said this week.

Atlanta-based Home Depot and Polar Industries Inc. join a handful of defendants that have agreed to settle with more than 300 people who sued for the fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick. About 90 defendants remain.

The agreement brings to $18.5 million the total amount of settlement money offered so far.

The fire began when pyrotechnics ignited by the rock band Great White set ablaze flammable soundproofing foam around the stage.

Polar Industries, based in Prospect, Conn., made insulation that the victims’ lawyers say was dangerous and defective. The material, called PolarGuard, was placed in the ceiling of the drummer’s alcove by a prior club owner, presumably for soundproofing purposes.

Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement store chain, sold the material.

Polar Industries referred calls to its lawyer, who declined to comment.

Home Depot spokesman Jerry Shields confirmed that the insulation company’s insurer had agreed to pay the entire $5 million. Home Depot said in a statement that it had not paid any money or admitted any liability.

“The company is saddened by the tragedy and has been vigilant in cooperating with the authorities in their investigation,” the statement said.

A group of other defendants — including pyrotechnic companies, an alarm company, a manufacturer of a soundproofing board, and the realty company that leased the club to owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian — tentatively agreed to settle earlier this year for $13.5 million.

No settlement money has yet been paid out.

Polar Industries has admitted in court papers that PolarGuard was installed in the nightclub. But it also says the material came with safety warnings and that the club owners violated building codes by failing to cover PolarGuard with a proper thermal barrier.

Mark Mandell, one of the lawyers for the families, announced the new settlements at a court hearing Wednesday.

During the same hearing, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux appointed Francis McGovern, a Duke University law school professor, to oversee the distribution of settlement proceeds in the case. McGovern was recommended by the lawyers for the victims’ families.

McGovern, an expert in dispute resolution, agreed to do the work for free, Mandell said.

Lawyers for the victims say there would be inevitable conflicts if they were forced to decide themselves which of their clients was entitled to receive the most money.

Mandell said he and other victims’ lawyers have not been able to approach their clients with settlement offers because there’s no method yet to divide the money.

“They won’t have any idea what they’re getting,” Mandell said.

Lagueux must approve the settlements, as must each person suing. The judge predicted it might be difficult to get everyone to agree.

“I could foresee some problems there because you represent a group of plaintiffs, and maybe some of the plaintiffs are unhappy with the plan,” Lagueux said.

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