Confidential Settlement for College Dorm Fire / Seton Hall

An out-of-court settlement with the families of 12 students killed or injured in last year’s fire at Boland Hall, Seton Hall University was announced on January 5, 2001. Ronald Goldfaden, partner in the New Jersey law firm of Blume Donnelly Fried Forte Zerres & Molinari, Chatham, NJ, was the attorney for 4 of the students, including Frank E. Caltabilota, Jr., who died in the fire. Mr. Goldfaden discussed the settlement in a press conference at Blume Goldfaden’s Chatham office.

Although the terms and amounts of the settlement could not be discussed due to a confidentiality agreement, the unique circumstances of the settlement negotiations did emerge from the efforts of the news media that followed the announcement.

Goldfaden first contacted Seton Hall University, writing letters and calling the Unversity’s president, Msgr. Robert Sheeran, to request a meeting. Goldfaden had seen University officials on television promising to “do what’s right for the dead and injured students.”

Goldfaden told the University officials that if they really wanted to do what’s right for the students, that he felt the same way. Both sides agreed to meet in May, 2000, at Blume Donnelly’s Chatham office. Subsequent meetings were held in June, July and September. The meetings were attended by Goldfaden, 2 University attorneys, and 2 representatives of the Universities insurance carrier.

At the meetings, it was decided that Goldfaden wouldn’t talk about Seton Hall’s legal responsibility or the University’s negligence, and that Seton Hall’s representatives and attorneys wouldn’t talk about Seton Halls legal defenses or immunities. Both sides felt they were working in the best interests of the students and the University.

Within a few months, settlements were reached on behalf of three of Goldfaden’s four clients. At this point, the University’s legal team asked Goldfaden if he would help pave the way to settlements with the other plaintiff’s lawyers. Goldfaden accepted this request, and contacted several of the other plaintiffs’ attorneys, assuring them that Seton Hall was sincere in wanting to settle with all the injured or deceased students in a fair and equitable manner without dragging out all the legal arguments and extending the cases for years.

As of January, 2001, 12 of the pending claims have been settled, and another six are close to settlement. Rarely has such a large case been settled so expeditiously, at least in New Jersey. This would not have been possible without Seton Hall’s great desire to get this tragedy behind the University and the students and their families.

For more background on attorney Ronald Goldfaden, click here .