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Oakland Reaches $32.7 Million Settlement In Ghost Ship Fire Lawsuit

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The city of Oakland has reached a $32.7 million settlement of the lawsuits filed over the disastrous Ghost Ship warehouse fire in 2016.

The Oakland City Council authorized the settlement on behalf of 32 of the 36 people who lost their lives when the fire swept through an illegal music party inside the cluttered 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Oakland's Fruitvale district on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

A press release from the city of Oakland said the settlement will be allocated with $23.5 million for the families of the fire victims who perished and $9.2 million for plaintiff Sam Maxwell, who survived the fire but will live with severe, lifelong injuries and major medical expenses.

"This was a horrific tragedy that deeply impacted every corner of our community. Mayor Schaaf, the City Council, City Attorney and City Administrator express their deepest sympathies to Mr. Maxwell and the families, whose losses are unimaginable," read a statement from the city. "The City continues to assert, as the agreement provides, that it is not liable for these tragic losses. The City decided to settle this case because of the cost-benefit analysis. The City's total insurance coverage is $22 million.

Mary Alexander, who represents 13 of the families said the settlement speaks for itself. "They say they're not taking responsibility but they truly are by paying this settlement," Alexander said.

"There's no victory lap being taken by anyone in this case because 36 beautiful souls were lost," said Paul Matiasic, an attorney who represents four families in the case. "I can tell you for many of my clients the decision to accept the settlement was an agonizing one because clearly there is no amount of money on the world that can bring back their loved one."

The attorneys said this case wasn't about the money. Families just wanted to make sure this wouldn't happen to anyone else.

"I would hope it's a wake-up call for all the defendants that sticking your head in the sand is not the proper course of action," Matiasic said.

The retrial of the criminal case against Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena is scheduled to begin in October 2020. Almena was released from Santa Rita Jail in May after his bail was reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alameda County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said Almena had left the facility Monday afternoon at around 4 p.m.

Almena, 49, is charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire. A lengthy trial for Almena and co-defendant Max Harris, the warehouse's artistic director, ended last September with jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Almena and acquitting Harris of all charges. Harris was released from custody later that day.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. KPIX 5's Andrea Nakano contributed to this report

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