Final Settlement for Deaths of 9 Firefighters

     CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – The Sofa Super Store will pay $1.9 million to settle claims from families of nine firefighters who died fighting a fire 6 years ago. The settlement brings to a close a string lawsuits stemming from the largest loss of firefighters in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

     The fire at the furniture chain’s West Ashley showroom was thought to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the loading dock. More than $18 million in settlements has been paid in litigation involving more than two dozen defendants.
     The store and its owners also settled with nine former firefighters who filed lawsuits alleging physical and emotional ailments as a result of the fire.
     Furniture makers and other companies had settled wrongful death claims; the store and its owners were among the last major defendants. The group included Sofa Super Store, primary owner Herb Goldstein, Herbert Goldstein LLC, the Goldstein Family Limited Partnership and Furniture Retailers of Charleston Inc.
     The money will be split among the families of fallen firefighters Brad Baity, Mike Benke, Melvin Champaign, Earl Drayton, Mike French, Billy Hutchinson, Mark Kelsey, Louis Mulkey and Brandon Thompson.
     From 33 percent to 40 percent of each payout will go to attorney fees, according to court documents.
     According to published reports, each of the firefighters’ families has received $637,355 and $775,470 from workers’ compensation and a public fund. The wrongful death suits alleged that the owners of the building made multiple changes and additions to the site without adhering to national fire and electrical codes, contributing to the fire’s rapid spread from a loading dock into the store’s massive showroom. Flames ignited highly flammable polyurethane foam in sofas and other furniture, and the store’s maze-like layout made it impossible for firefighters to escape before flames consumed the building and the roof collapsed, the families contended.
     The store was never rebuilt. Today a memorial stands in the middle of a modest lawn.

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