Oakland to Pay Out $32.7 Million to Survivors of Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

The Ghost Ship Warehouse on Dec. 3, 2016, after a fast-moving fire swept through the building in Oakland, Calif., killing 36 partygoers. (KGO-TV via AP, File)

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — In a settlement announced late Thursday, the city of Oakland has agreed to pay $32.7 million to families with loved ones who perished in the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire, along with one survivor who continues to battle with severe lifelong injuries.

“I don’t think any amount of money can compensate them for what they’ve been through it’s a terrible, tragic, horrible loss. But it does bring a sense of some justice to the families,” the plaintiffs’ lead liaison attorney Mary Alexander said by phone Thursday evening. “This money can help soften their lives a little bit and give them that sense of justice.”

The settlement resolves a raft of civil lawsuits against the city for failing to inspect and shut down the Ghost Ship — which had been illegally converted into a live-work space for about 25 artists — for not being up to code, though police and fire personnel visited repeatedly before the fire, and the planning and building department received multiple reports of dangerous conditions there. 

A fire ripped through the warehouse on Dec. 2, 2016, where over 100 people were attending an electronic music concert on the upper floor, leaving 36 people dead.

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

Under the settlement, the victims’ families will receive $23.5 million. Sam Maxwell, who survived the fire but suffered terrible injuries, will receive $9.2 million.

The city continues to claim it is not liable for the fire and said in a statement through the city attorney’s office that it agreed to settle the claims after a cost-benefit analysis.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community,” said a press release from the city of Oakland. “Mayor [Libby] Schaaf, the City Council, city attorney, and city administrator express their deepest sympathies to Mr. Maxwell and the families, whose losses are unimaginable.”

A criminal case against the Ghost Ship’s master tenant Derek Almena is still set for October 2020 in Alameda County Superior Court.

This past September, 12-person jury could not agree on whether to convict Almena on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, hanging 10-2 in favor of guilt and forcing Judge Trina Thompson to declare a mistrial. 

The same jury acquitted Almena’s co-defendant Max Harris, who lived at the Ghost Ship warehouse and helped Almena run the collective.

Alexander said a civil lawsuit against the city brought by 12 people who lived at the Ghost Ship is still ongoing, as are lawsuits against Ghost Ship landlords Chor Nar Siu Ng and her children Eva Ng and Kai Ng.

“The people who lived there and had to run for their lives are still suing the city, so this doesn’t settle everything,” she said. “We’re still going to trial against the city in February.”

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