Trial Date Set for R.I. Nightclub Owners Over Workers’ Comp Payments

By | August 25, 2005

The owners of a Rhode Island nightclub where 100 people were killed in a 2003 fire are scheduled to go to trial Sept. 30 to determine whether they are able to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the families of workers killed in the blaze, a judge said.

If the trial starts as scheduled, it would be the first stemming from the deadly blaze at The Station in West Warwick.

State Workers’ Compensation Court Judge Bruce Morin set the trial date for brothers Jeffrey and Michael Derderian, who say they don’t have the money to fully pay $180,000 in workers’ compensation claims. Earlier this year, Morin ordered them and their company, Derco LLC, to pay death benefits for the four employees killed, payments to the children of two workers, and penalties and legal fees.

The Derderians have not provided any financial documents to prove they don’t have the money. Kathleen Hagerty, who represents Michael Derderian, said disclosing the records or testifying at trial could hurt the brothers’ criminal case.

The Derderians have each pleaded innocent to 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter, but that trial is not expected to begin until early next year.

The brothers did not have workers’ comp insurance when The Station burned to the ground on Feb. 20, 2003, during a concert by the 1980s rock band Great White. The fire was sparked by a pyrotechnics display that set fire to flammable foam lining the club’s walls and ceiling. The band’s former tour manager, Dan Biechele, who lit the pyrotechnics, is also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Bouncer Tracy F. King, 39, waitress Dina Ann DeMaio, 30, Steven R. Mancini, 30, and his wife, Andrea Louise Jacavone Mancini, 28, who were checking customers’ identification, were among those killed. Their families would have been entitled to burial and other expenses if the club had workers’ comp insurance. King and DeMaio both had children.

Morin held the Derderians in contempt of court in May after they failed to pay. The judge hopes to determine at trial whether the brothers can’t afford the compensation, or are refusing to pay. If they refused to pay, they could be sent to jail for contempt.

Jeff Pine, the attorney representing Jeffrey Derderian, said the brothers have been making small, regular payments to the families, but they do not have the money to pay the full amount. The brothers started making payments before the judge ordered them to do so, Pine said.

The brothers are also appealing a $1 million fine for failing to carry workers’ comp insurance.

The Derderians and several others are also being sued in federal court by survivors and the families of fire victims. That lawsuit is not expected to go to trial before the criminal case.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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