Clear Channel To Pay Fire Victims $22M, But Will Not Admit Fault
By Gerri Elder
The owner of Clear Channel, the radio station that promoted a deadly concert in Rhode Island, has reached a settlement agreement with the fire victims and their families and will pay out $22 million.
Clear Channel promoted a concert by the band Great White at a nightclub on February 20, 2003 in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The WHJY-FM radio station owned by Clear Channel ran on-air advertisements, held contests for free tickets to the concert and sent a DJ from the station to the event to serve as master of ceremonies.
During the concert, the pyrotechnics used by the band set fire to the flammable soundproofing foam in the club's ceiling and walls. Hundreds of people were injured by the fire, and 100 people died as a result of the blaze. The victims and their families filed a personal injury lawsuit against Clear Channel and dozens of other companies and individuals who they allege share the blame for the injuries and deaths.
The New York Times reports that lawyers for the victims and their families alleged that Clear Channel knew or should have known of the potential for disaster at the concert because the band regularly put on shows featuring heavy use of pyrotechnics. It was also alleged that the DJ from Clear Channel, Mike Gonsalves, who died in the fire, could have stopped or delayed the concert in the interests of safety, but he failed to do so.
Clear Channel answered the victims' complaint against them by saying that they did not arrange the Great White concert, nor did they pay for the performance or have any control over what happened at the club. Even so, the company has decided to resolve the claims made by the victims and pay $22 million to the survivors without admitting any fault.
The settlement has been arranged in the case, but will not be a done deal until all of the plaintiffs and the federal judge in the case approve the terms of the personal injury settlement and all of the conditions are met.
Although Clear Channel has agreed to pay the settlement, they were not the only defendants in the case and do not shoulder all of the blame for the deadly fire. The victims have already reached settlements with The Home Depot, the manufacturer of the flammable insulation material used at the club, a pyrotechnics company and a television station whose cameraman allegedly blocked an exit while he filmed the fire.
Including the $22 million that Clear Channel will likely pay, the victims and survivors of the fire will collectively be entitled to receive $70 million in damages as a result of the tragic 2003 fire. However, there are still many people and companies that have not yet settled with the defendants, so the total settlement amount could become much larger. The victims have also named Anheuser-Busch, members of Great White, the West Warwick fire inspector and the state of Rhode Island as defendants in the case.