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Flood of lawsuits stemming from nightclub fire filed in court
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- More than 200 relatives of victims of last year�s nightclub fire and survivors joined in filing a lawsuit Thursday, accusing dozens of defendants, including the state, club owners, the leader of the band Great White and a fire inspector, of negligence.

The 70-count lawsuit was filed in Providence Superior Court by lawyers representing 226 people�the majority of those who survived the fire or had family members who perished. It was the largest wave of plaintiffs to bring suit over the deadly blaze.

The Feb. 20, 2003, fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick was sparked by onstage fireworks during a performance of the Los Angeles-based rock band Great White. It killed 100 people and injured more than 200 others. Thursday�s lawsuit involves 146 of the injured and relatives of 80 of those who died.

In total, the lawsuit names 46 defendants, including State Fire Marshal Irving J. Owens, and it allows for more defendants to be added.

It accuses club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian of negligently failing to obtain a license for pyrotechnics and failing to install safe soundproofing material.

It also claims West Warwick fire inspector Denis Larocque is liable for failing to note the presence of the foam used as soundproofing during a series of routine fire inspections conducted since the Derderians bought the club in March 2000.

The highly flammable foam is blamed for spreading the fire quickly through the one-story wooden nightclub.

The lawsuit also alleges that band leader Jack Russell and the band�s former tour manager Dan Biechele, were negligent for igniting the pyrotechnics.

Additionally, the lawsuit names Essex Insurance Co. for failing to note the presence of highly flammable �surface treatments� and failing to note the inadequacy of exits. According to the lawsuit, Essex conducted inspections of the club at least three times between 1996 and 2002. Essex issued a commercial liability policy to Michael Derderian which began March 24, 2002.

The last inspection occurred Oct. 8, 2002, just months before the fire.

The plaintiffs are suing for monetary damages, but no dollar amount is mentioned in the lawsuit. The lawyers said they are seeking what �a jury deems proper, plus interest and costs.�

The 130-page suit also named two publicly traded foam manufacturers, Leggett & Platt and Foamex International, and beer company Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

Anheuser-Busch is alleged to have contributed to overcrowding in the club by promoting the concert, where its Budweiser brand beer was to be sold.

Clear Channel Broadcasting, Inc., was also named in the suit, also for the promotion of the concert by one its radio stations, WHJY, Inc.

�WHJY, Inc. knew or should have known that the concert and band that it promoted was one that customarily utilized pyrotechnics and that Great White had repeatedly, openly and illegally used unlicensed pyrotechnics on its tour,� the lawsuit said.

Providence lawyer Mark Mandell, the co-chairman of the plaintiffs� steering committee of eight lawyers, which filed the suit, said the suit was �the product of over a year�s work preserving and analyzing evidence.�

The suit also names a WPRI cameraman who shot video of the fast-moving fire. The lawsuit alleges that Brian Butler impeded the exit of concertgoers trying to leave the club while he was shooting the video. CBS Broadcasting, Inc. in New York was also sued for doing business with WPRI.

Several other lawsuits on behalf of families and survivors have been filed in U.S. District Court in Providence.

A U.S. District judge ruled in March that the civil suits stemming from the fire should be heard in federal court, rather than state. Some plaintiffs and defendants had argued lawsuits should be heard in federal court because the cases involve parties from several states. But others, including those who filed the lawsuit Thursday, said the fire was essentially a local disaster and lawsuits should be handled in state court.

It is expected that because of the federal judge�s ruling, the case filed Thursday will be moved to federal court.

The majority of the 100 people killed in the fire were from Rhode Island, though there were also victims from Massachusetts, Connecticut, California and Florida.

The Derderians and Biechele were indicted last December on 200 counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They have pleaded innocent.

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