Oakland to pay $32.7M to settle deadly warehouse fire suits

Oakland will pay $32.7 million to settle lawsuits filed over a 2016 fire that killed 36 people at an illegally converted warehouse dubbed the Ghost Ship.

Posted: Jul 17, 2020 9:08 AM

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland will pay $32.7 million to settle lawsuits filed over a 2016 fire at an illegally converted warehouse dubbed the Ghost Ship that killed 36 people, the city announced Thursday.

The City Council authorized settlements of lawsuits filed by the families of 32 victims. The amount also includes more than $9 million for Sam Maxwell, who survived the blaze but “will live with severe, lifelong injuries and major medical expenses,” a city statement said.

“This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community,” said the statement from the city attorney’s office.

The settlement is one of the largest in city history but Paul Matiasic, an attorney for five families, called it “insignificant.”

“There’s no amount of money in the world that can bring their loved ones back,” he told the East Bay Times. His clients contended the city was negligent and should have red-tagged the building.

The city doesn’t acknowledge any liability in the agreement but decided to settle because of the possible legal costs, the statement said.

The settlement does not include about a dozen people who lived at the warehouse and were a part of the lawsuit, attorney Mary Alexander told the newspaper.

“These people are like wildfire victims, they had to run for their lives through smoke and flames and lost their homes, many of them displaced for a long time,” Alexander said.

On Dec. 2, 2016, fire swept through the warehouse during an electronic music party. The industrial building had illegally been turned into a residence for artists and an event venue.

The building was packed with furniture, extension cords and other flammable material but had only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers, authorities said.

Prosecutors contend that Derick Almena, the master tenant on the warehouse lease, was criminally negligent when he converted and sublet the space. They charged him with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter but a judge declared a mistrial last fall. His retrial is scheduled for October.

The blaze killed many young people trapped on the illegally constructed second floor. Prosecutors said the victims received no warning and had little chance to escape down a narrow, ramshackle staircase.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, although some lawsuits said there were serious electrical problems with the building.

Almena’s attorneys argued city workers were to blame for not raising concerns about fire hazards in the warehouse. City officials had said the building hadn’t been inspected for three decades, and when inspectors did visit the site in November 2016, they were unable to enter to investigate a report of illegal construction.

Almena, who had been jailed since 2017, was released earlier this year over coronavirus concerns after dozens of cases were reported at the facility where he was held. He is confined to home without written court approval.

A co-defendant, Max Harris, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter charges last year and no longer lives in the state.

The building’s owner, Chor Ng, wasn’t charged with a crime.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3577966

Reported Deaths: 52798
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles119433321569
Riverside2903253829
San Bernardino2868142952
Orange2616083952
San Diego2610013317
Santa Clara1109111797
Kern103622902
Fresno956771451
Sacramento936781488
Alameda808731244
Ventura77849858
San Joaquin670401140
Contra Costa62818681
Stanislaus56323950
Tulare48086766
Monterey42316329
San Mateo39096521
San Francisco34318422
Santa Barbara32087416
Solano30163164
Merced29195405
Sonoma28222298
Imperial26913638
Kings22091220
Placer19882232
San Luis Obispo19724236
Madera15505214
Santa Cruz14700183
Marin13261197
Yolo12854185
Shasta11045179
Butte10981167
El Dorado9168100
Napa905671
Sutter888698
San Benito577261
Yuba577137
Lassen562319
Tehama510452
Nevada397974
Tuolumne396359
Mendocino382143
Amador346941
Humboldt321933
Lake316441
Glenn223223
Colusa213913
Calaveras191149
Siskiyou177914
Inyo131737
Mono12144
Del Norte10075
Plumas6536
Modoc4594
Mariposa3957
Trinity3725
Sierra1000
Alpine820
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 36°
Oroville
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 44°
Chico
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 36°
Red Bluff
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 35°
Red Bluff
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 35°
Chico
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 36°
We've had beautiful weather over northern California today and it will continue through Wednesday before changes begin. Those changes will first involve cooler air and stronger wind, with rain and snow chances following.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events