Attorneys for 226 victims of the Station club fire in West Warwick, R.I., and their families filed a 70-count lawsuit yesterday (July 22) in Providence Superior Court. The Feb. 20, 2003, fire killed 100 people and injured some 200 more during a performance by the band Great White.
The lawsuit names 46 defendants, including Great White, singer Jack Russell, former band manager Paul Woolnough, Knight Records, tour manager Dan Biechele, club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, pyrotechnic firm Luna Tech, foam manufacturers, speaker manufacturer JBL, Providence radio station WJHY, its owner Clear Channel Broadcasting, Anheuser-Busch, Lloyd’s of London, bus company Four Seasons and state and local officials.
Most of the charges are for negligence, as in the case of Anheuser-Busch, Clear Channel, the radio station and others. The suit says those defendants “knew or should have known” that Great White “customarily utilized pyrotechnics” in its show and “had repeatedly, openly and illegally used” them in performances prior to the Station show.
“We knew it was coming,” says Ed McPherson, attorney for Great White, of the charges. “It is unfortunate that it names people associated with the band.”
Steve Minicucci, one of the lead attorneys for the Plaintiff Steering Committee, tells Billboard the suit was filed in state court with the “expectation that it would progress from state to federal court immediately.” It seeks unnamed compensatory damages for items ranging from funeral expenses to lost earnings for those injured and families of those killed.
“We expect [the suit] to progress in due course, but it will probably be a long process,” says Minicucci.
McPherson says he and attorneys in Rhode Island will review the court papers. “Then we’ll file an appropriate response and make sure this is consolidated with six other civil acts in the Rhode Island Federal Court,” he says.
Three criminal indictments were issued in December 2003, following a nearly 10-month investigation into the fire by a Rhode Island grand jury. Biechele and the Derderians were each charged with 100 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter with criminal negligence and 100 misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Each count of manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 30 years. All three pleaded innocent. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch told Billboard in a previous interview that the entire process could take at least 18 months, starting with the discovery phase and exchange of evidence that includes hundreds of hours of testimony.
Jeffrey Pine, lawyer for the Derderians, could not be immediately reached for comment.