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Brewer seeks to settle in nightclub fire

With distributor, it offers $21m

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Eric Tucker
Associated Press / May 24, 2008

PROVIDENCE - Brewer Anheuser-Busch Inc. and a Rhode Island 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 filed yesterday.

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 on the club's walls and ceiling. More than 200 people were injured.

Anheuser-Busch is the latest big-name defendant to settle the case rather than bear the costs of continuing litigation or risk the uncertainty of a jury trial.

The St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch and its Cranston-based distributor, McLaughlin & Moran, did not admit wrongdoing.

The latest agreements with plaintiffs' lawyers mean more than $122 million has now been offered to victims' families and survivors by more than a dozen defendants, including The Home Depot, which sold insulation used in the club, and Clear Channel Broadcasting, whose local rock radio station promoted the concert.

A group of foam manufacturers agreed earlier this month to settle for $30 million.

More than 300 survivors and victims' relatives sued dozens of people and companies over the fire. Defendants remaining in the case include the state of Rhode Island, the town of West Warwick, and American Foam Corp., a Johnston company accused of selling the flammable foam to the club.

Anheuser-Busch and McLaughlin & Moran were named in the lawsuits because survivors and victims' families said they helped promote the concert by selling Budweiser beer, T-shirts, and hats at the show, and displayed a banner outside the club that invited patrons to "Party with Budweiser."

The victims' lawyers said Anheuser-Busch allowed its Budweiser trademark to be used "without making such minimal inquiry sufficient to discover the dangers of the band's performance."

They also said a rock radio station disc jockey paid by McLaughlin & Moran to serve as master of ceremonies and introduce Great White would have been positioned to stop the band from using the pyrotechnics but failed to do so. The disc jockey, Michael Gonsalves, was among those killed.

Under terms of the settlement, Anheuser-Busch will pay $5 million, and McLaughlin & Moran will pay $16 million.

McLaughlin & Moran said in a written statement that it was pleased about the settlement and hopes the case will be concluded quickly so the money can be paid out.

Gary L. Rutledge, the vice president for legal and government affairs at Anheuser-Busch Cos., said in a written statement that the company had no responsibility for the fire, but was sensitive to the families.

"As a result, we wanted to direct the resources we would have committed to defending these lawsuits to those families," the statement said.

The settlement requires the approval of each person suing, as well as the federal judge overseeing the case.

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