Foam Companies Agree to $30M Settlement in R.I. Nightclub Fire

May 14, 2008

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 this week.

The foam companies that agreed to settle include Carthage, Mo.-based Leggett & Platt Inc., Baltimore-based Wm. T. Burnett & Co., 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 various companies, including past settlements with Home Depot, Clear Channel Broadcasting and a pyrotechnics manufacturer.

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

Investigators blame flammable, polyurethane foam on the walls and ceiling of the club for fueling the blaze, which swiftly engulfed the one-story building in flames and dense, toxic smoke. The fire began when a pyrotechnics display for the 1980s rock band Great White ignited foam placed around the stage for soundproofing.

It’s still not clear exactly which of the companies sued made the foam that was in the club. The foam was sold to club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian by Johnston-based American Foam Corp. American Foam, which has also been sued, bought their foam from a handful of manufacturers.

The foam companies that were sued allegedly sold or distributed their product to American Foam. Tests were being done 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 selling it and failing to educate users about the material’s potential 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 Derderians installed the foam after neighbors complained repeatedly about noise from the rock bands who performed at the roadside club. The Derderians have said they did not know it was flammable, and the town fire inspector never cited the club for the foam during repeated inspections of the building.

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

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. None of the money from the settlements has been distributed yet.

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 due to be released on parole next year from his four-year sentence. His brother was spared jail time altogether.

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