Rhode Island Judge OKs $176M Settlement in Deadly Club Fire

January 11, 2010

A federal judge overseeing lawsuits stemming from a Rhode Island nightclub fire that killed 100 people endorsed a $176 million settlement Thursday, bringing survivors and victims’ relatives closer to receiving money and moving years of arduous legal wrangling toward a final resolution.

Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux also authorized the creation of a trust fund to hold the settlement money for the more than 300 people who sued after the 2003 fire at The Station nightclub.

“I think this is a red-letter day for The Station fire case,” Lagueux said. “This is a win-win-win situation.”

The judge approved the settlement as well as formulas for determining how the money is to be distributed among the survivors and relatives of those killed.

Survivors who were most severely injured stand to receive the largest shares — in some cases, several million dollars. The dozens of children whose parents were killed or injured will also be compensated. Those amounts vary widely based on whether the parent died or was injured and on the age of the child at the time the fire occurred.

Victims could start receiving their money within months. Citizens Bank and Paul Finn, a Massachusetts lawyer and mediator, were appointed co-trustees of the fund.

The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the club in West Warwick began when a pyrotechnics display used at the start of a concert by the 1980s rock band Great White set ablaze soundproofing foam around the stage. Besides the fatalities, the blaze caused a panicked rush toward the front exit and more than 200 people were injured.

The dozens of people and companies sued after the fire _ including foam manufacturers, the club’s owners, Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel Broadcasting and the town of West Warwick _ agreed to settle for a combined $176 million rather than risk going to trial. None of the defendants admitted liability.

Separate criminal charges from the fire were resolved in 2006. Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian pleaded no contest to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting they installed the flammable soundproofing foam.

Former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele pleaded guilty to the same charges for igniting the pyrotechnics without a permit. Michael Derderian and Biechele were sent to prison. Both have since been released.

“We’d like it to be over because it’s just a constant reminder of everything that’s happened,” said Claire Bruyere, whose 27-year-old daughter, Bonnie Hamelin, died in the blaze.

She said the settlement money would be especially helpful to families who are having financial problems.

Survivors and victims’ relatives will mark the seventh anniversary of the fire with a memorial service at the site next month.

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