RI Nightclub Litigation-Is There a Better way?

I am following the aftermath of the RI (Warwick) nightclub tragedy, in which 98 people died. In addition, there are still 50 people in hospital, many with lungs so damaged from smoke inhalation, that they will never fully recover.
As a critic of the leagal system, I am intrigued by what is happeneing…two wrongful death lawsuits have already been filed. The investigation has revealed so far that:
-highly flammable plastic foam was installed(illegally) around the sound stage
-pyrotechnic displays were setoff (again illegally); the club had no permit to use them
-the owners of the club had failed to renew their worker’s compensation insurance policy…a direct violation of RI law
-the owners had regularly violated the 300 person occupancy limits; it appears that many more than 300 people were in the club the night of the fire
-the town of warwick knew (apparently) of codeviolations at the club, but did nothing
Now, we reach the issue of claims. RI law caps the damages perperson at $100,000. The club had a very small insurance policy (I’ve heard $2million). Obviously, most of the victims were young people, many leaving young children. Litigation could goon for aslong as 10 years…is there a better way to compensate the families of the dead? Finally, should a deep-pocketed defendent emerge (it looks like the company that owned the foam mfg. has some assets), how moral is it to bankrupt an innocent party, who had no control over the misuse of its product.
I’dlike to propose an alternative, which would cut the lawyers out of the process entirely:the governorof RI should establish a special fund for the victims. This should be paid for by a special one-time taxon all of the people of RI, ans should distribute the funds to all survivors on an equal basis. Wouldn’t this make more sense than squandering millions of dollars on legal fees, court time etc./ Acknowledge the error, pay the claims, and move on!
Is there merit to my approach?

My first reaction is, what criteria do you use for determining whether an incident merits such a special tax?

Would it be different if the club owners had tons of insurance, or were a wealthy corporation?

And I wonder about what mechanism is used to distribute ppayments to different victims, if the courts and lawyers are cut out of the system? Is this a permanent bureaucracy, or newly formed following each “disaster?”

Bottom line - if you must be killed or injured, have the common sense to be killed or injured by someone wealthy.

How have you already determined that the foam manufacturer is innocent? Why do you believe whether they can control the use of their products is the appropriate standard? Should they be absolved of responsibility if they knew that their products would be misused in this manner?

Unless your idea actually legislates that lawyers can’t be involved, lawyers will still be involved. The victims and the families of victims will want to know that they are being fairly compensated. Some of them would likely seek the help of lawyers.

Finally, your plan holds completely unrelated people as responsible as it holds the bad actor. How is this an improvement over the present system, or is the only goal of your system the removal of lawyers?

I concur with the above. The whole point of legal redress is to make the party who has done wrong make the aggrieved party whole. Taxing the people of RI places the burden on the innocent and relieves the culpable. If they done wrong, makes em pay.

Yes, there is a better way. One method is for the business men to not cut corners in fireproofing the places where lots of people gather. And to provide numerous and well lighted exits. And control the actions of performers so that they don’t even bring in incendiary devices let alone ignite them.

Another way is to provide adequate building safety and fire department inspectors. But of course such people are public employees and providing enough of them takes taxes which are even more odious than occasionally killing people in substandard structures.

…is essentially what the fedral Govt. did with the WTC disaster…grant a lump sum payment, in return for the victims waiving claims against anybody.
To my mid, this approach makes more sense than handing the lawyers a huge bonanza…plus, they need the money now, not 8-10 years from now!
Really, in the end, society pays! So why dilute the payout by involving/enriching 3rd parties (the lawyers)?
Yes, we know the place was a firetrap…but the Warwick fire inspector, police dept., and the state governmnet were all delinquent (the fireman on a previous detail didn’t even bother to write the place up when a previous band used illegal pyrotechnics on stage!)
Now, the company that owns the company that made the flammable foam insulation…they are an attractive target because they have money! But how on earth can you sell a product to someone, and be held liable when that person (through evil intent or ignorance) uses that product illegally?
In ny event…suppose the foam company pays out $50 million-1/3 of that will go to the lawyers, and the company will just raise their prices, or lay off employees…either way, society pays.
I think the idea has merit…it is certainly faster and a more economical way to compensate the victims ofthis awful tragedy!

ralph124c, in what manner does your scheme hold the responsible parties, such as the band and the nightclub, liable for their actions?

Where do you get your belief that it would take lawyers 8-10 years to resolve claims?

The victims need not waive claims against EVERYBODY- they still have a valid claim against the perpetrators.

In the case of the WTC, the rationale behind the indemnification of the airlines, etc. by the fed. gov’t was that there were two MAJOR players (United & American) in a big, indispensible industry that would face utter ruin even if they were found 1% responsible. That would cause a huge disruption to the economic well-being of the entire country.

These people who died as a result of actions by people lacking deep pockets are SOL- just as the random victim of street violence is. They can sue everyone involved, ruin the bad guys, and still not be compensated.

Sorry, but dems da breaks.

Robb…you must not be thinking too hard…YES, the band and the fool that set off the pyrotechnics desrve the blame…as do the owners of the nightclub. The point is, they can’t pay anything of significance…they have a tiny amount of assets, against a huge claim. The victims nedd compensation now. My point is, whether we have a long, drawn out expensive settlement via the courts, or a swift indemnification by the state, the result IS THE SAME…the people of RI will pay!
My scheme just removes the lawyers from the payout.
And, as for lengthly litigation, the KY supper club settlement with GE took 8 years.

Are you forgetting that this is Great Debates?

This is the first you’ve told us that the band can’t pay any money.

The result isn’t the same. Among other things, your scheme removes any incentive for nightclub owners to provide safe nightclubs. The state will pay victims for them.
Of course, lawyers could make people in other states also pay.

So, based on one case and your disdain for lawyers, you’re happy to let some pretty rotten people get away with their actions and inactions. It’s no wonder you just keep repeating yourself.

Is this Kentucky supper club the Beverly Hills Supper Club? If so, you aren’t helping your argument. According to the lawyer, the Beverly Hills Supper Club case was settled for $47 million more than anyone thought it was worth. I have to wonder if the people who got that money thought it was worth the wait.

Explain the significance of their “need” for compensation. A hell of a lot of people need compensation now - and we aren’t giving it to them.
From victims of con artists to the person who breaks his back falling down the icy steps of an underinsured bodega to, heck, welfare mothers, they all need compensation.
Why do the victims of this fire deserve special attention? Because their story made the news?

The fact of the matter is that the victims and their families will get very little. That’s too bad, but you haven’t explained why students in Rhode Island schools should have fewer after-school programs, or why repairs to that stretch of I-95 should be delayed or cancelled, or why the Rhode Island State Police should hire 20 less troopers, because a night club burned down.

Why do these people deserve compensation from Rhode Island - because something bad happened to them? Should the State of New York have paid for my psychotherapy after my fiancee broke up with me? I could have used the compensation - my insurance didn’t cover the sessions.

Does not compute, literally. The cost to the state of Rhode Island of paying for a judge, clerks, secretaries, baliffs, and facilities to hold a trial (assuming it gets to trial), will be immensely less than any viable compensation fund.


Sua: I take issue with your claim. It seems to me, that the families of 99 victims, plus the 200+injured patrons will involve a lot ofpaperwork. I just heard, for example, that the first two civil suits will be automatically thrown out,becuase the lawyer (a Mr. Cunha) failed to provide the Town of Warwick with 40 day’s notice of his intention to sue. So, there goes another round of paper, with preliminary appearance, etc.
Suppose that the courts rule that the Town of Warwick cannot be made to pay more than the $100,000 liability limit, and the club turns out to not have any insurance (that wouldn’t surprise me, since the Dederian brothers were probably on the edge of bankruptcy). What then? The plaintiffs will then probably seek moneys from the company that supplied the foam insulation…they will probably declare bankruptcy, and whatever assets they have will be frozen. So, the victims will probably get nothing, except the huge legal bills…this doesn’t solve anything.

ralph124c, do you honestly believe that the cost to Rhode Island of putting on a trial will be anything close to the amount Rhode Island would have to pay in a compensation fund scheme?

If so, you are sorely mistaken. Hint - the salaries of the judges, clerks, etc., will be paid whether or not there is a trial. The court house already exists. Etc.

Here’s your problem - you think there has to be a solution. There doesn’t have to be one. Bad things happen, and often nothing can be done about it.
Except, possibly, for the town of Warwick, the government has done nothing wrong. Explain again why the victims have the right to public money when the public was not at fault.

Really, there are two solutions. First, the victims get very little. Second, the victims get a lot, taken out of the pocket of every Rhode Islander.

Why is the second solution the better one? Just because there won’t be lawyers involved? That is both incorrect and nonsensical.


Another way is to provide adequate building safety and fire department inspectors. But of course such people are public employees and providing enough of them takes taxes which are even more odious than occasionally killing people in substandard structures.
Sorry, the State of RI has some of the strictest fire codes (outside on NYC) in the USA. As we have seen, these were simply NOT ENFORCED. All of the laws were correct, it is just that neither the Warwick Fire Dept., Police Dept., or Building Inspector saw fit to enforce the fire laws/building codes. In fact, the RI fire Codes states that the foam that was used as sound insulation, cannot be used in any building. To my mind, that makes the Town of warwick a major miscreant in this case. Does the Town have the resources to compensate the victims of the tragedy? Yes and no…raising property taxes would not work. Why not:
-prosecute the guilty (the fire inspectors, pyrotechnics guy,club operators) in criminal court
-levy a one-time tax on the taxpayers of the state…$10.00 a head would compensate the victims, quickly and economically.
Result: the guilty parties are in jail, and the victims get compensated right away.
But that would make too much sense!

Hell, I have a solution that makes “too much sense” - levy a one-time tax on Bill Gates to pay for the compensation.

He can afford it - more than a lot of Rhode Islanders can afford a one-time tax of $10.00
He is just as culpable as the people of the State of Rhode Island.

Now do you understand why your “solution” is nonsensical?


And they are not enforced partly because violations aren’t discovered because there aren’t enough inspectors because that requires taxes which are not levied because people don’t want them.