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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Signs Off on $1 Million Settlement in Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

A California judge on Tuesday approved a settlement that calls for the city of Oakland to pay $32.7 million to the families of 32 of the 36 people who died in a fire at a music party at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland four years ago.

OAKLAND, Calif.—An electrician who performed unpermitted work at the Ghost Ship warehouse will pay $1 million to the families of 33 of the 36 people who died in a fire at a music party at the warehouse under a settlement approved by a California judge.

Tuesday’s ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman only affects electrician Benjamin Cannon, who was named as one of the defendants in litigation stemming from the deadly fire at the 10,000-square-foot warehouse, which had been illegally converted into an artists’ collective for about 25 people, in the deadly blaze on Dec. 2, 2016.

Mary Alexander, the lead liaison attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Wednesday that no objections have been lodged to that settlement and no additional hearings have been scheduled at this time.

Cannon’s settlement, which will be paid by his insurance company, is separate from the city of Oakland’s agreement this past July to pay $32.7 million to 32 of the family members who died in the blaze at the building in the 1300 block in Oakland’s Fruitvale district .

Alexander said the city’s settlement only affects the family members of 32 of the victims but the case against other defendants involves family members of 33 of the victims. She said one of the families joined the case too late to be involved in the city’s settlement.

According to the against the city of Oakland, the building wasn’t up to code, even though police officers and firefighters visited responded to the building repeatedly before the fire. The plaintiffs also said the planning and building department received numerous reports of dangerous conditions there.

The warehouse was cluttered with flammable materials and debris, received its power from an adjacent building through an overloaded cable snaked through a hole in the wall, lacked overhead sprinklers and emergency exits and only had two rickey stairwells — one of which had been blocked off before the party, according to the plaintiffs.

About 100 people attended an electronic music concert on the warehouse’s second floor on Dec. 2, 2016, when a fire broke out, killing 36 people. Most of the victims were there to attend the party but one warehouse resident was also killed.

The cause of the fire was never officially determined. But Alameda County prosecutors said in the criminal trial of Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris last year that they believed it was caused by faulty electric equipment.

The city’s settlement calls for the families of 32 of the victims to receive $23.5 million. Sam Maxwell, who survived the fire but suffered horrible injuries, will receive $9.2 million.

The lengthy criminal trial for Almena and Harris ended on Sept. 5, 2019, with jurors acquitting Harris of all charges and deadlocking 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena.

Prosecutors plan to try Almena a second time. He’s scheduled to have a hearing on motions in his case on Feb. 5. Jury selection is set to begin March 8.

Last week the Oakland City Council approved an additional $399,000 settlement for 12 people who formerly lived at the warehouse.

Defense attorneys for Almena and Harris argued at trial that Cannon was one of several people who might be criminally liable for the fire.

Pacific Gas & Electric also was named as a defendant in the lawsuit but it recently reached a settlement with the 33 plaintiffs in a confidential agreement.

Alexander said the plaintiffs are still in discussions with Ghost Ship landlord Chor Ng and her two children, Kai and Eva, who managed the warehouse.

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