Universal Music Ordered to Produce 2008 Fire Insurance Settlement Details

Universal Music Group logo.

A federal court has ordered Universal Music Group to produce documents relating to their insurance settlement following the 2008 Universal Studios fire, which destroyed, among other invaluable media items, as many as 500,000 master recordings.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth signed off on the order, which represents a major legal victory for artists (and artists’ estates) who have sought to learn the full extent of the 2008 blaze’s damage. Universal execs repeatedly downplayed the fire’s destruction, though a New York Times expose prompted the public—and artists—to more closely scrutinize the tragedy.

Last month, court filings from the case revealed that Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Elton John master tapes, to name just some, had been destroyed in the fire. However, these disclosures represented only a portion of the information sought by the plaintiffs, and if produced, the insurance settlement details could spur new developments yet.

The 2008 Universal Studios fire was ultimately attributed to a heated asphalt shingle, which wasn’t properly monitored (during the cooling process) by workers. More than 500 firefighters battled the multi-acre fire for over half a day, and 17 individuals suffered injuries during the episode.

In June 2019, the estates of Tom Petty and Tupac Shakur, in addition to surviving members of Soundgarden and others, filed a class-action lawsuit against Universal Music, alleging irresponsible storage procedures and $100 million in damages.

One week ago, however, Soundgarden and Tupac’s estates withdrew from the case, leaving the late Tom Petty’s wife, Jane, and Steve Earle as the only remaining plaintiffs.

It’s unclear at this point exactly what information the fire’s insurance settlement includes. At a top level, the report is expected to provide insight into the number of Universal Music master recordings lost in the inferno, as well as which masters were lost.

At the time of this piece’s writing, Universal execs hadn’t publicly commented on the order to produce the insurance-settlement information. Earlier this week, Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge was diagnosed with COVID-19. He is currently being treated in a California hospital.

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