Clear Channel in multi million dollar settlement over Great White Tragedy

March 2008

Live event industry

(From The CMU Daily)

Now here’s a warning to any US media entering into co-promotion deals with live music companies. American radio major Clear Channel may pay out $22 million in relation to that much previously reported 2003 fire at a Great White gig in Rhode Island where 100 people died.

As previously reported, 100 people were killed and double that injured when The Station nightclub in West Warwick burned down during the 2003 gig by the LA rock band. The fire was caused by pyrotechnics used during the gig, and there was much dispute between the owners of the venue and the band’s management as to whether permission had been granted by the former to the latter to use the pyros in a venue that, it transpired, had very flammable sound proofing. Club owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian and Great White tour manager Dan Biechele all received criminal convictions: Biechele received a four year prison term with a further eleven years suspended in relation to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter. After a bitterly contested plea bargain, Michael Derderian, who purchased the foam for the venue, received a four year prison term and both brothers also received three years’ probation. In addition, Jeffrey Derderian was sentenced to 500 hours of community service.

One of the lawsuits launched by lawyers for the victims of the fire was aimed at Clear Channel’s WHJY-FM who had pre-promoted the concert by running ads, giving away tickets and providing a DJ to MC the night. The legal types argued that the radio station knew, or should have known, that the band regularly used pyrotechnics in the show, and that that would be dangerous at the venue hosting the event. They also argued their employee at the gig – ie the DJ who was MCing, one Mike Gonsalves, who was killed in the fire – could and should have delayed the start of the gig over safety concerns. WHJY-FM in its defence has pointed out neither it nor its employee had any control over activities in The Station club that night, nor did they hire, pay or have any control over the band. Nevertheless, given the scale of the tragedy, the station’s parent company is keen to resolve the action without a drawn out court case and as such has been busy negotiating an out of court settlement. The settlement now on the table will cost the radio major $22 million, and will take the monies so far won for victims of the fire to $70 million – following settlements with others accused of liability in the fire – including the maker and seller of the sound proofing material that caught fire, the maker of the pyros, and a TV company whose camera man was accused of blocking a fire exit. Other lawsuits, including one against the band themselves, rumble on.

Confirming the out of court settlement, the radio firm said yesterday: “While Clear Channel had no role in causing or contributing to this fire, we are pleased to resolve these claims and, hopefully, contribute in some way to a sense of resolution for the affected victims and their families”. While Clear Channel were keen to stress that the pay out does not mean that they accept any liability for the fire, the settlement could still have an impact on other radio stations who enter into similar co-promotional relationships with smaller independent venues, who may now look for reassurances from promoters and venues that all safety issues have been
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