The Upstairs Lounge Fire


City Faces Several Lawsuits

New Orleans Faces Large Damage Suits

The City Council reportedly has been warned by city officials that lawsuits growing out of four major tragedies could cost New Orleans hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The city faces lawsuits from the Bourbon Street Mall disaster, the Rault Center fire, the Downtown Howard Johnson’s sniper incident and the Upstairs Lounge fire.

Mayor Moon Landrieu, Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kernion and city attorneys met in secret session with councilmen Dec. 23 to alert them to the situation, the Times-Picayune reported Saturday.

Altogether, New Orleans is named as a defendant in about 50 individual suits and could be liable for all or part of $73.4 million, the report said.

City officials were unavailable for comment.

The newspaper said city officials are most concerned about the Bourdon Street incident of April 1972, in which a car fleeing from police roared down a pedestrian mall, killing one person and injuring 18.

The city is the key defendant in five suits totaling $3.85 million. A March 10 trial date is set to determine whether the city is liable for damages. If so, the amount of liability would be determined in a later trial.

The newspaper quoted sources in the city attorney’s office as saying the police car involved in the incident was insured for only $75,000.

There are 12 federal and state suits totaling $30.7 million related to the city’s action in the Rault Center fire on Nov. 29, 1972, in which six persons died.

Three suits have been filed against the city in the Jan, 7, 1973 Howard Johnson’s sniper attack.  They total about $2 million. The shooting spree between police and a gunman atop the hotel left seven persons dead and 17 injured.

Plaintiffs are seeking $36.8 million in 28 federal and state suits filed against the city after 32 persons were killed in a fire at the Upstairs Lounge on June 24, 1973.

Only the Bourbon Street suit has been set for trial, but sources in the city attorneys office were quoted as saying that the Rault Center fire suits may reach trial before the end of 1975.

If the city decides to make out-of-court settlements in the cases, the council must find the funds.

New Orleans officials reportedly are looking at options to deal with a number of lawsuits that have arisen from the Upstairs Lounge fire and three other catastrophes over the span of about a year.

Source: Sunday Advocate, January 5, 1975

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