Families of Firefighters Killed in South Carolina Sofa Store Fire Settle

March 10, 2010

Families of eight firefighters killed battling a South Carolina furniture store fire almost three years ago have settled with another group of lawsuit defendants for more than $1.2 million.

The June 18, 2007, fire at the Sofa Super Store killed nine firefighters in the greatest single loss of firefighters in the nation since the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center. Eight firefighters and a pilot died in 2008 when a helicopter fighting a northern California wildfire crashed.

The families of eight of the fallen Charleston firefighters sued for wrongful death, naming 30 defendants including the furniture store as well as various furniture manufacturers and equipment manufacturers.

Court documents show settlements were reached last month in Charleston County Court with eight defendants for just over $1.2 million. In late 2008, 12 other defendants settled for a total of $5.6 million.

Settlements with the eight defendants were approved Feb. 17 by Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis.

Court documents show the plaintiffs settled with Albany Industries for $500,000; with David Miller Concrete for $125,000; with Best Chairs Inc., for $88,888; and with Robinson and Robinson Furniture for $100,000.

The plaintiffs also settled with Overnight Sofa Corp., Pembrook Chair Corp., Hughes Furniture Industries Inc. and Motion-Eaze Recliners for a combined $400,000.

Court documents show no date has been set for a trial with the remaining defendants. Dennis last year dismissed a request by several defendants to name the city a defendant.

A 2008 report from a panel of experts brought in by the city after the fire concluded inadequate training, outdated tactics and aging equipment lead to the firefighters’ deaths.

It found firefighters did not follow standard safety practices and had obsolete equipment. But it also found the blaze would have been confined to a loading dock where it started had sprinklers been installed in the store, which once was a grocery store.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the specific cause of the fire was not found but concluded discarded cigarettes or someone lighting materials at the store loading dock were likely causes.

The families of the nine who perished also received about $640,000 to $775,000 each from workers’ compensation and a public fund for the firefighter families, according to the city.

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