Posts tagged as:

Rhode Island Station nightclub fire

The state of Rhode Island and town of West Warwick, the last major defendants left in the lawsuits over the Station/Great White fire, agreed to throw $10 million apiece into the settlement pot, which now reaches $175 million, to compensate the 200 injured and survivors of the 100 killed in the 2003 blaze. The town of West Warwick, population just under 30,000, is expected to have to borrow heavily to enable its payment; it has a $4 million insurance policy, but defense litigation costs will be deducted before any of that money is made available for the settlement (RedOrbit/ProJo, more, AP/Firefighting News via Childs).

Dozens of private companies named in the suits had settled earlier, including many with peripheral or remote connections to the calamity, such as beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch, which together with a beer distributor agreed to pay $21 million, and radio operator Clear Channel, which paid $22 million. West Warwick will wind up paying much less than that, although its negligent contribution to the disaster (in failing to enforce key provisions of its own fire code) would appear immeasurably greater. Earlier posts here.

{ 2 comments }

Sealed Air makes polyethylene foam for packaging material. The Great White plaintiffs allege that polyethylene foam in the soundproofing was part of the reason the Rhode Island Station nightclub fire spread so fast, killing 100–though they have no evidence that Sealed Air manufactured the foam in the club, not to mention the fact that the packing foam was never intended to be used as building material. Not to worry: with joint and several liability in Rhode Island, Sealed Air faced billions of dollars of potential liability because all of the other deep pockets (dozens of defendants ranging from a radio station to four other foam manufacturers to Anheuser-Busch to the bus that transported the band to the concert to a television station that covered the fire) have settled, Sealed Air couldn’t risk being held even 1% liable, especially given that at a trial plaintiffs would have no incentive to blame empty-chair or empty-pocket or settling defendants. Sealed Air will pay $25 million in protection money. (AP; Providence Journal; TortsProf). The miscarriage of justice continues, but the remaining defendants are apparently judgment-proof.

{ 3 comments }

“Anheuser-Busch and a Cranston beer distributor have agreed to pay $21 million to settle lawsuits brought by survivors of a 2003 nightclub fire and relatives of the 100 people killed, according to court papers. The February 2003 fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick began when pyrotechnics used by the rock band Great White ignited flammable soundproofing foam.” More than ninety defendants were sued, and the total of settlements has now topped $122 million from defendants “including Home Depot, which sold insulation used in the club, and Clear Channel Broadcasting, whose local rock radio station promoted the concert”. (“Rhode Island: New Settlement in Nightclub Fire”, AP/New York Times, May 24.)

{ 7 comments }

The legal kitty for the Rhode Island nightclub fire now exceeds $100 million, bolstered by earlier settlements from such entities as Clear Channel Broadcasting and Home Depot, among at least 93 defendants in all. (Eric Tucker, AP/Boston Globe, May 13; earlier).

“Three more parties sued by victims of the [West Warwick, R.I.] Station nightclub fire have offered tentative settlements in the civil cases now pending in U.S. District Court.” Audio maker JBL, accused of including flammable foam in its speakers and amplifiers, is offering $815,000. “The other two parties offering to settle are ABC Bus Inc., and Superstar Services LLC, which provided bus transportation for the rock band Great White to The Station for its concert, as well as more than 25 kilograms of explosive fireworks material that the band carried on its road trip. Together they are offering $500,000.” (Tracy Breton, “3 more companies offer settlements in Station fire case”, Providence Journal, Mar. 27). Earlier: Feb. 2, etc.

March 1 roundup

by Ted Frank on March 1, 2008

  • Oregon Supreme Court plays chicken with SCOTUS over $79.5 million punitive damages award in Williams v. Philip Morris case. [Sebok @ Findlaw; Krauss @ IBD; POL Feb. 1]
  • Speaking of punitive damages, I did a podcast on Exxon Shipping v. Baker. I can’t bear to listen to it, so let me know how I did. [Frank @ Fed Soc]
  • Arkansas case alleged legal sale of pseudoephedrine was “nuisance” because meth-makers would buy it; case dismissed. [Beck/Herrmann]. This is why I’ve stockpiled Sudafed.
  • Lawyers advertise for refinery explosion victims before fire goes out. [Hou Chron/TLR]
  • Connecticut Supreme Court: cat-attack victim can sue without showing past history of violence by animal. [On Point] Looking forward to comments from all the anti-reformers who claim to oppose reform because they’re against the abrogation of the common law.
  • Op-ed on the Great White fire deep pockets phenomenon. [SE Texas Record; earlier: Feb. 2]
  • “FISA lawsuits come from Twilight Zone.” [Hillyer @ Examiner]
  • Legislative action on various medical malpractice tweaking in Colorado, Hawaii, and Wyoming. [TortsProf]
  • Request for unemployment benefits: why fire me just because I asked staffers for a prostitute? [Des Moines Register]
  • “So much for seduction and romance; bring in the MBAs and lawyers.” [Mac Donald @ City Journal; contra Belle Lettre; contra contra Dank]
  • Where is the Canadian Brandeis standing up for free speech? [Kay @ National Post]
  • In defense of lobbying. [Krauthammer @ WaPo]

{ 1 comment }

February 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 19, 2008

  • Raising ticket revenue seems more important to NYC authorities than actually recovering stolen cars [Arnold Diaz/MyFoxNY video via Coyote]
  • Subpoena your Facebook page? They just might [Beck/Herrmann]
  • Rhode Island nightclub fire deep pockets, cont’d: concert sponsor Clear Channel agrees to pay Station victims $22 million, adding to other big settlements [ProJo; earlier]
  • Manhattan federal judge says “madness” of hard-fought commercial suit “presents a cautionary tale about the potential for advocates to obscure the issues and impose needless burdens on busy courts” [NYLJ]
  • Wooing Edwards and his voters? Hillary and Obama both tacking left on economics [Reuters/WaPo, WSJ, Chapman/Reason, WaPo editorial]
  • Sad: if you tell your employer that you’re away for 144 days on jury duty, you actually need to be, like, away on jury duty [ABA Journal]
  • New at Point of Law: Florida “three-strikes” keeps the doctor away; court dismisses alien-hiring RICO suit against Tyson (and more); Novak on telecom FISA immunity; fortunes in asbestos law; Ted on Avandia and Vioxx litigation; new Levy/Mellor book nominates Supreme Court’s twelve worst decisions; and much more;
  • U.K.: “Lawyers forced to repay millions taken from sick miners’ compensation” [Times Online]
  • Outside law firm defends Seattle against police-misconduct claims: is critics’ beef that they bill a lot, or that they’re pretty good at beating suits? [Post-Intelligencer]
  • Cincinnati NAACP is campaigning against red-light cameras [Enquirer]
  • Omit a peripheral defendant, get sued for legal malpractice [six years ago on Overlawyered]

{ 1 comment }

Innocent bystanders have paid the bulk of settlements to date in the catastrophic fire caused by Great White’s pyrotechnic display that killed 100 people at The Station nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island. The latest victims are a television station, WPRI, and a cameraman who will contribute $30 million to a settlement fund: WPRI’s Brian Butler is accused of impeding the crowd’s exit through the front door, though Butler’s contemporaneous account suggests that he probably saved some lives at the time. “Dozens of defendants remain, including … Anheuser-Busch Inc., which sold beer at the concert; and Clear Channel Communications, which owns a Providence radio station which ran advertisements promoting the show.” (Andrea Estes, “Tentative deal set in R.I. fire case”, Boston Globe, Feb. 2; “Tentative $30 Million Settlement in Club Fire”, AP/NY Times, Feb. 2). Earlier: Feb. 2006 and Nov. 2 (Home Depot pays $5M for failure to warn, though their foam is different than the foam that caught on fire).

November 2 roundup

by Ted Frank on November 2, 2007

  • Curlin gets 400 new owners, as the Kentucky fen-phen plaintiffs ripped off by their attorneys get the right to seize Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion’s 20% share of the Preakness Stakes winner. [AP/NYT; earlier]
  • As Lerach pleads guilty, LA Times editorial defends class action abuses, incorrectly says that the PSLRA fixed everything and that Lerach didn’t act illegally after it was passed. [LA Times]
  • That $10.9 million verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church was “not about the money.” [Reuters] Really, now, this case imposing bankrupting damages for a protest on a public sidewalk is appalling. Granted: Phelps is bigoted scum, and rude bigoted scum at that. But Albert Snyder’s claimed physical injury is that the protest exacerbated his diabetes: what sort of junk science is that? NB that Snyder was not even aware of the protest at the funeral until he watched it on television. Why not liability for the news program? Even those happy to see the anti-gay bigotry of the WBC punished should take pause: Snyder testified at length that the protest upset him particularly because his son was not gay.
  • Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary (Apr. 29, Oct. 2004), on the hook for $28,000/month in child support for love child. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
  • Deep-pocket search in Great White fire case. [Childs]
  • Lawsuit over which school 9-year-old can play football for. [Tulsa World (via TMQ G. Easterbrook)] Worse, the judge rewarded the plaintiff by second-guessing the league decision. [Tulsa World]
  • It only takes ten months of legal proceedings for Cal-Berkeley to evict trespassers squatting on university property. [SF Gate]
  • Don’t hold your breath: who’s watching the trial lawyers? [Examiner]

{ 9 comments }

September 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 10, 2007

All-New England edition:

{ 1 comment }

In 2003, a terrible fire in a Providence night club killed a hundred people and injured many more. The fire apparently started when Great White’s (the live band) pyrotechnics ignited soundproofing foam around the stage. The victims initially filed suit against “four dozen defendants, include club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and former Great White tour manager Daniel Biechele.” Biechele recently plead guilty to a hundred counts of involuntary manslaughter for igniting the pyrotechnics, and the club owners are fighting the same charges.

Now, as the statutory deadline (3 years apparently in Rhode Island) for new suits approaches, and perhaps given the disappointing depth of the current defendants’ pockets, the victims and their families have filed suit against “dozens” of others in the fire. The suit now names individual members of the band, the company that distributed the acoustic foam, and even Home Depot, for not “warning of the potential hazards” of the insulation they sold the club, despite the fact that the insulation Home Depot sold “is different from the foam ignited by the pyrotechnics”. (Eric Tucker, “New complaint filed in nightclub fire case”, Houston Chronicle, Feb 15)


March 10-11 – “Burglars to be banned from suing victims”. United Kingdom: “Burglars who are injured while committing a crime are to banned from suing their victims for compensation. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has bowed to public pressure after the outcry over the case of Brendon Fearon, the burglar who is trying to sue Tony Martin for £15,000 after being shot while breaking into his home.” (David Bamber, Daily Telegraph, Mar. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 – Clear Channel = Deep Pocket. “With damage claims in the Rhode Island fire expected to run up to $1 billion, two lawyers representing victims have set their sights on a potential defendant with very deep pockets: Clear Channel Communications. The broadcasting giant owns WHJY-FM, a Providence radio station that ran ads for the Great White concert at The Station that ended moments into the first song when pyrotechnics set off by the band ignited the nation’s fourth-deadliest fire. A popular disc jockey at WHJY, Michael Gonsalves, introduced Great White and was among the 99 who died in the fire or from injuries suffered in the blaze. The two Providence lawyers, who between them represent about a dozen victims, said yesterday their expected lawsuits will almost certainly name Clear Channel as a defendant. The company, the largest operator of radio stations in the country, has assets that far outstrip those of the 14 defendants who were named in the only lawsuit filed so far.” (Jonathan Saltzman, “R.I. fire victims’ lawyers eye firm”, Boston Globe, Mar. 8). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 – New Medicare drug benefit? Link it to product liability reform. “Even drugs like aspirin, which cause hundreds of deaths each year, could not meet the safety standards patients expect today,” argues Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute. ” … But putting [older] patients on the pills they need means we need to prepare to tolerate more side effects or tolerate more lawsuits. Litigation should not be a cost of commerce when government puts itself in the business of pushing pills. … Without product liability reform, prescription drug coverage will transform into a full employment act for the lawyers, limiting development of new drugs and driving up prices for everybody.” (Scott Gottlieb, “More Drug Use Will Mean More Lawsuits,” AEI On the Issues, Mar.). (DURABLE LINK)

March 10-11 – Lawsuits vs. free speech, cont’d: jailhouse rock. Last year VH1 aired a special entitled Music Behind Bars, featuring the music of prisoners. Now the family of a West Virginia man murdered in 1994 by one of the inmate-performers is suing the network. The family’s lawyers are arguing that whether or not the network compensated the convicted killer for his performance — it says it did not — its broadcast occasioned the family emotional distress for which it should have to pay compensatory and punitive damages. (Maria Lehner, “Murder Victim’s Family Sues VH1″, Fox News, Mar. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

March 8-9 – Tobacco fees: feds indict former Texas AG. One of the biggest developments yet in the tobacco-fee saga: a federal grand jury is charging former Texas attorney general Dan Morales and his friend Marc Murr with conspiracy and mail fraud over Morales’s attempt to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for Murr from the state’s tobacco settlement. More recently, Morales has suggested that he might be able to furnish information that would throw in question the fee entitlements of five politically influential trial lawyers who managed the state’s case (R. G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, “Former Attorney General Dan Morales indicted”, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 6; April Castro, “Ex-Attorney General Morales Indicted”, AP/Washington Post, Mar. 6; “Former Texas Attorney General Surrenders”, AP/ABC News, Mar. 7). For earlier coverage, see Jul. 15, 2002 and links from there; Jan. 10-12, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)

March 8-9 – Should have watched his step answering call of nature. Update: an appeals court in the Australian state of New South Wales has overturned the $60,000 judgment (see Mar. 5, 2002) awarded to Paul Jackson, who after a night drinking with friends walked home along a highway and “stepped over a low guard rail in order to urinate, not realising there was a drop of several metres.” The “plaintiff was not taking reasonable care for his own safety as he was obliged to do,” the justices said. (“That’s a long drop”, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 5; “Wee change in fortune for Wollongong man”, Aust. Broadcasting Corp., Mar. 5). (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 – Update: hospital rapist’s suit dismissed. Sandusky, Ohio: “A judge has dismissed the $2 million lawsuit filed by a convicted rapist who claimed the hospital where he sexually assaulted a woman was negligent because it didn’t prevent the crime, according to court records.” ((Richard Payerchin, “Ruling: Convict responsible for his own crime”, Lorain Morning Journal, Feb. 20)(see May 22-23, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 – Stuart Taylor, Jr., on lead paint litigation. At his most scathing: “[O]ne group deserves a special niche in the annals of those who have perverted the legal system for personal and political gain at the expense of everyone else: the politically connected trial lawyers who have signed up Rhode Island, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, and dozens of other governments, school districts, and housing authorities to sue over health hazards associated with sales of lead pigment and paint for indoor use. The last of those sales took place more than 45 years ago.” With details on the unusual “retainer agreement” with which former Rhode Island AG Sheldon Whitehouse signed over the state’s sovereign authority to two influential private law firms: “It not only guaranteed the lawyers a contingent fee of 16.67 percent of any money recovered, plus all litigation expenses; it also gave them considerable control over whom to sue, what to claim, whether to settle, and on what terms.” (Stuart Taylor Jr., “Perverting the Legal System: The Lead-Paint Rip-Off”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 19) (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 – Incoming link of the day. From the website of a Fort Worth, Texas cardiology practice: “We do not provide ANY email advice regarding medical issues. DO NOT contact us by email with clinical questions. The email addresses above are for business correspondence only. For some insight as to why, click here.” (DURABLE LINK)

March 5-7 – $6 million fee request knocked down to $25,000. Ouch! An appeals court in El Paso has upheld a trial judge’s decision to “award a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers $25,000 in attorney fees instead of the nearly $6 million they sought under a contingent-fee contract.” However, the attorneys, led by brothers Stephen F. Malouf and E. Wayne Malouf, are unlikely to go hungry; they’ve apparently obtained upwards of $2 million in fees from other aspects of the case, a complex litigation over oil rights. (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Appeals Court Says Trial Judge Had Discretion to Reduce Fees”, Texas Lawyer, Feb. 26). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 – “The Tort Tax”. “According to a new study by Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, the total cost of the U.S. tort system reached $205.4 billion in 2001, an increase of 14.3% over the previous year — far faster than the rate of economic growth. This is like a tax of 2% on everything in the American economy that takes $721 per year out of the pockets of every citizen.” Also cites a certain “excellent website that, unfortunately, I find too depressing to read regularly”. (Bruce Bartlett, syndicated/National Review Online, Mar. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 – Thrill of the chase. NYC: “A half-dozen personal-injury lawyers were charged [last week] in a scam that allowed a network of corrupt hospital employees to do the ambulance-chasing for them, authorities said. In at least three hospitals — Elmhurst, New York Presbyterian and Lincoln — emergency-room workers sold the attorneys confidential medical records of car-accident victims, evaluating the sales potential of the information as doctors were evaluating the patients for treatments, authorities said. Officials were clued in on the scheme — which ran for seven years — by a hospital employee after patients began complaining about calls at home from strangers who knew a lot about their medical conditions, according to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.” (Tom Perrotta, “Personal Injury Lawyers Indicted for Soliciting Scam”, New York Law Journal, Feb. 27; Laura Italiano, “Lawyers Charged in Hosp. E.R. Scam”, New York Post, Feb. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

March 4 – “Edwards doesn’t tell whole story”. In stump speeches since the outset of his political career, Sen. John Edwards has invoked the case of little Ethan Bedrick, a cerebral palsy victim, as emblematic of “the kids and families I’ve fought for.” One reporter was curious to learn more about Bedrick’s case, but Edwards’s campaign press secretary “told me if I wanted to know any details, I should ‘look it up.”’ So she did. It turns out Edwards’ firm obtained a settlement, often described as being for $5 million, of a lawsuit charging that asphyxiation during delivery caused Ethan’s disability. Edwards’s speech picks up the story only later, when Ethan’s family battled a health insurer to obtain needed therapy (Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, Feb. 27) (& see letter to the editor, Mar. 31). (DURABLE LINK)

March 3 – By reader acclaim: “Man who threw dog into traffic sues dog’s former owner”. “A man who threw a dog to its death in a fit of road rage is suing the dog’s former owner and a newspaper, alleging mental anguish and seeking more than $1 million in damages. … [Andrew] Burnett was sentenced in July 2001 to three years in jail in the death of Leo, a bichon frise whose owner tapped Burnett’s bumper in rainy-day traffic in February 2000 near the San Jose Airport. Burnett threw the little dog into traffic before driving off.” (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 28; Dan Reed, “Leo the dog’s killer claims mental anguish in suit”, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

March 3 – Update: Lockyer sues complaint mill. Following a continuing furor in California (see Jan. 15-16) about entrepreneurial lawyers’ practice of filing assembly-line complaints against thousands of small businesses, which then are informed that they must pay thousands of dollars to get the charges dropped, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer has announced that he is suing the most-publicized such law firm, Trevor Law Group, under the same unfair-business-practices law that it employs in its complaints. “Trevor Law Group operates a shakedown operation designed to extract attorneys’ fees from law-abiding small businesses,” Lockyer said. “They’ve abused one of the state’s most important consumer protection statutes and dishonored attorneys who practice law in the public interest. There’s some delicious irony in turning the weapon around and using it on them.” (Monte Morin, “State Accuses Law Firm of Extortion”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27; Dan Walters, “In ironic twist, law firm finds itself on other end of suit”, Sacramento Bee, Mar. 3). See also Jessica V. Brice, “Wave of lawsuits threatens 70-year-old consumer law”, AP/Sacramento Bee, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)