July 18, 2020 / 3:34 AM / 25 days ago

California's Oakland settles 'Ghost Ship' fire claims for $32.7 million

(Reuters) - The City of Oakland, California, has agreed to pay $32.7 million to settle claims stemming from a 2016 fire that killed 36 people and severely injured another when it engulfed a warehouse known as the Ghost Ship that hosted an artists’ colony.

The settlement, announced on Thursday, resolves lawsuits on behalf of 32 victims as well as Sam Maxwell, who survived with lifelong injuries, the city said.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community,” the city said in a statement on Friday.

The lawsuit accused local officials of knowing the Ghost Ship had fire risks and that people lived there without permits, and not acting to prevent a disaster.

Under the city council-authorized agreement in which Oakland admitted no liability, Maxwell will get $9.2 million and the families of the 32 people who died will split $23.5 million.

The city said it decided to settle the case “because of the cost-benefit analysis,” noting insurance will cover $22 million of the payout.

Another 12 plaintiffs who escaped the fire were not covered by the settlement, attorney Mary Alexander, who represented the families of 13 victims, told the East Bay Times. The suit also named the warehouse owners and PG&E as defendants, the newspaper said.

The Dec. 2, 2016, fire, which erupted during an electronic dance music party, led to criminal charges against the two men who leased the 10,000-square-foot (900-square-meter) building, which prosecutors said lacked sprinklers and smoke detectors.

In September a jury acquitted one of the men, Max Harris, of 36 counts of manslaughter, and could not reach a verdict on the other, Derick Almena.

The city said a retrial of Almena is scheduled for October.

The blaze was the deadliest U.S. building fire since 100 people died at a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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