Insurance Cos. Settle In Station Case

Seven insurance companies and a man who owned a nightclub before it burned to the ground in a fire that killed 100 people have agreed to pay survivors and victims’ relatives more than $250,000, becoming the final defendants expected to settle lawsuits over the deadly blaze, according to court papers filed Monday. 

More than $176 million has been offered by the dozens of people and companies sued after the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, which began when a pyrotechnics display from the 1980s rock band Great White set ablaze cheap packaging foam used as soundproofing around the stage.

In the last week, members of the band offered $1 million to the victims’ families and survivors, and club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian agreed to an $813,000 settlement.

The most recent settlements cover seven insurance insurance inspection companies and insurance brokers as well as Howard Julian, who owned the club before the Derderians and was accused of installing defective insulation material. The companies have agreed to pay $262,500, and Julian will contribute $3,000.

They were the last defendants to settle, excluding those already dropped from the case or expected to be dismissed by the victims’ lawyers.

All the settlements require the approval of the more than 300 people suing as well as of the federal judge overseeing the case, among other conditions. A Duke University law professor has been appointed to meet with the plaintiffs and work out a formula to determine how much money each person suing should receive.

Several of the insurance companies involved in Monday’s settlement were accused in the lawsuits of failing to thoroughly inspect the club for safety hazards before issuing insurance policies to its owners. Victims’ lawyers and prosecutors have said the club was cluttered with building and fire code violations.

The defendants include Essex Insurance Co.; Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London; Surplex Underwriters Inc; V.B. Gifford & Company Inc.; Gresham & Associates of R.I., Inc; Gresham & Associates of Rhode Island, Inc., and Anchor Solutions Company, Inc.

Neither the companies nor Julian admitted any wrongdoing. The companies’ lawyers either did not return phone messages or declined to comment. Julian declined to comment.

A judge had earlier dismissed the insurance companies from the case, saying they did not owe any legal duty to the club’s patrons. The victims’ lawyers appealed that decision, and the companies agreed to settle while the appeal was pending.

All the major defendants sued after the fire have agreed to settle in the last year, including Clear Channel Broadcasting, whose local rock radio station ran advertisements for the Great White concert and whose disc jockey was a master of ceremonies, and brewer Anheuser-Busch, whose local Budweiser distributor helped promote the show.

The Derderians pleaded no contest in 2006 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, admitting that they hung illegal soundproofing foam blamed for spreading the fire, and former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele pleaded guilty to the same charges for igniting the pyrotechnics without a permit.

Biechele was released on parole in March after serving 22 months of his four-year prison sentence, and Michael Derderian is scheduled to be freed next year.