Final defendants settle RI nightclub fire lawsuits

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - September 8, 2008 - Seven insurance companies and the former owner of The Station nightclub in West Warwick reached the settlement. The insurance companies will dole out $262,500, and Howard Julian, accused of installing defective insulation material at the nightclub, will contribute $3,000.

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.

More than $176 million has been offered by the dozens of people and companies sued after the Feb. 20, 2003, fire, 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.

All the settlements must be approved by the more than 300 plaintiffs and the federal judge overseeing the case, among other conditions. A Duke University law professor has been appointed to develop a formula for how much money each of the plaintiffs 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.

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

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.

The Derderians in 2006 pleaded no contest to 100 counts each of involuntary manslaughter. Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison and will be released on parole next year; Jeffrey Derderian was given probation and community service.

Biechele was released on parole in March after serving 22 months in prison for his guilty plea to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

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