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2 firms to add $5m to Station fund

Victims' families could split $18.5m

The Home Depot and a foam insulation maker have agreed to contribute $5 million to settle civil lawsuits filed on behalf of most of the 300 people killed or injured in the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, raising the total tentative settlement to $18.5 million, plaintiffs' lawyers said in federal court in Providence yesterday.

Mark Mandell, a lawyer for scores of plaintiffs, told US District Judge Ronald R. Lagueux that Home Depot and Polar Industries Inc. of Prospect, Conn., agreed in principle to make the payment because the home improvement retailer sold foam manufactured by Polar that was in the ceiling above where the fire started.

The fire, which began after pyrotechnics were set off inside the West Warwick nightclub during a performance of the band Great White on Feb. 20, 2003, killed 100 people, including 33 from Massachusetts, and injured more than 200. It was the fourth-deadliest fire in US history.

Mandell said after the hearing that he hoped other companies would agree to contribute to the tentative settlement.

"Conversations are ongoing, negotiations are ongoing, and our expectation is that the amount will grow," he said.

In September, lawyers for the fire victims and their families said that they had reached agreements with a manufacturer and a vendor of pyrotechnics, another foam insulation maker, an alarm company, and a real estate company that leased the roadhouse to Jeffrey and Michael Derderian.

The foam made by Polar and sold by Home Depot was in the ceiling above the drummer from Great White and had been installed by a previous owner of the nightclub, said another lawyer representing plaintiffs.

Mandell disclosed the latest agreements at a hearing at which the judge said he would appoint Francis E. McGovern, a law professor at Duke University, as a special master to devise a formula for distributing funds from the growing settlement. The judge is expected to make the appointment official in about two weeks.

However, lawyers for the plaintiffs said it would probably be six months or more before the judge considers a possible formula for dividing the funds.

Also yesterday, the judge said the insurance company for Great White has put $1 million in the court registry in the hopes of resolving civil suits against the band. Mandell said he has objected to the amount as insufficient.

So far, the tentative settlement does not include defendants with the deepest pockets: Anheuser-Busch Inc., which sold beer at the concert, and Clear Channel Communications, which owns a Providence radio station that ran ads for the show. Also not involved in the settlements are the state and the Town of West Warwick.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

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