Damage cap limits state's potential losses from concert tragedy

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Total damages the Indiana State Fair could pay victims of last Saturday's concert tragedy would be capped at $5 million—an amount personal-injury lawyers say is far too low for the injuries and deaths involved.

Because of a state law that limits individual damage claims against the state to $700,000 and overall claims to $5 million per event, several other entities besides the state fair might become targets of negligence lawsuits, legal experts say. They could include the designer and builder of the stage or even the promoter of the concert, according to lawyers.

“I think there will probably be a large number of defendants listed, just because there’s a limited pot of money,” said local defense lawyer Tom Schultz.

Saturday night’s accident happened when a wind gust estimated at 60 to 70 mph toppled the roof of the stage and the metal scaffolding holding lights and other equipment. The stage collapsed onto a crowd of concertgoers awaiting a show by the country act Sugarland at the fair's grandstand. Five people died and more than four dozen were injured, some critically.

Several people are still hospitalized, including at least two victims with brain injuries.  

Litigation arising from the deadly accident is likely as several local attorneys already have been contacted by family members considering their legal options.

Dan Chamberlain, a partner at the Indianapolis personal-injury firm of Doehrman Chamberlain, said his firm could file suit on behalf of one victim within the next week.

“You’ve got 50 people injured, five who have been killed, and you’ve got $5 million in coverage,” Chamberlain said. “It’s nowhere close to fairly and adequately compensating the families.”

It remains unclear whether anyone had inspected the concert stage that toppled over, or if anyone was supposed to do so.

Fair officials said they have hired New York engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti Inc. to investigate the accident. The firm was involved in a similar investigation of the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

Indianapolis lawyer Mark Ladendorf, who expects to represent at least two families of the victims, said most firms will launch their own investigations.

“We’re going to have to get answers for our clients,” he said. “We succinctly can’t rely on what the government is going to tell us and what someone hired by the government will tell us.”

Under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, lawyers must notify the state entity they intend to sue within 270 days of the accident.  

State fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the fair is self insured against such lawsuits under the Indiana State Tort Claims Act.

He acknowledged to WISH-TV Channel 8 on Wednesday that the fair didn’t follow its own severe weather procedures by failing to inform concertgoers that the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area.

Indianapolis meteorologist Paul Poteet told WXIN Fox 59 that fair officials disregarded his warning to delay or cancel the show.

Questions about whether the fair did enough to anticipate a storm have loomed over the event. Some fairs hire their own meteorologists for just such a scenario.

The local law firm of Wilson Kehoe & Winingham LLC has retained a meteorologist and a structural engineering consultant in anticipation of representing family members, firm partner Bruce Kehoe said.

“When you have that type of catastrophe and that kind of loss, it would be unusual for folks not to want to get answers that are difficult to obtain,” he said.

Schultz, the defense lawyer who is a former president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana, expects numerous claims will be filed.

“The question is, is there fault somewhere?” he asked. “Right now, we don’t know.”



  • Limited Liability, huh?
    It's reasonable to expect that the structure would not collapse. It wasn't an F5 tornado -- it was a big wind. Nothing else tumbled, e.g. the Ferris wheel. The arbitrary limit on liability in this case is shameful. It gives little incentive for an organization to keep from gambling again with weak structures. If the victims can't be totally taken care of with the $5 Million, the courts should shut down the responsible organizations from doing further business until arrangements are made to cover the shortfall.
  • Not all of us
    You state that: "Everyone is totally connected and has abundant access to real time information via their iPhones and PDA's, so everyone in the crowd was privy to the info that there were severe storms and warnings in the area." Sorry, but you are WRONG. Not everyone has a fancy iPhone or other device that is connected to the internet. Just because you and your friends do does not translate to "everyone". I don't take issue with the rest of what you said, but just know that some of the people who were killed or injured may not have been as fortunate as you to be able to afford, or even want, a mobile device like yours.
  • Not rich
    No one is getting rich off of this. Several were negligent and deserve some of the fault. Several made bad decisions and should be held accountable. $5 million to spread out to 6 deaths and over 40 injured. That's only $100,000 per injured individual which won't even come close to their medical bills.
  • Lawyers
    The only ones that get rich off of these kind of lawsuits are the lawyers, not the victims suing the state.
  • Limited Liability
    I wish the State would pass a law limiting the liabilty for ALL citizens, instead the adverage citizen or company has to face these lawyers who are complaining that five million isn't enough to cover their fees and also leave something behind for the victims. You can be sure that when they saw that stage collapse they didn't see victims, they saw dollar signs. Gotta love those lawyers.
  • No one is to blame?
    Eek, it is too soon to make that determination. You don't know if they skimped on the cable or rope used to hold the stage up. I can tell you by seeing it in person, it came down rather easily. We all need to wait to see what the investigations reveal before so quickly passing judgement.
  • accident
    Most of the time storms come up, rage and pass with the worst outcome being people are drenched. Most likely the fair people and the fans expected this to be the case. We humans operate based on past experience from similar conditions. After this, people will react differently in the future. People do have the right to sue and that's quite understandable if they do, but in the end, this was an accident.
  • unforturnate but still personal responsibility
    I preface this statement with: My heartfelt condolences go out to family and friends for their lost loved ones and those who will be permanently paralyzed or brain damaged after this accident. I am so grateful that one of my family or friends were not casualty to this accident and I can only imagine how heart breaking it is. It is tragic and horrible. On the flip side, it was an accident. Everyone is totally connected and has abundant access to real time information via their iPhones and PDA's, so everyone in the crowd was privy to the info that there were severe storms and warnings in the area. All you had to do is look into the sky to see it was going to get pretty nasty. From there it was your choice to take cover or not. I have been the recipient of dumb luck as I stayed at a concert once during severe weather conditions. But here's the thing, we all need to take responsibility for our decisions and actions. There are consequences to each one of our decisions. I count my many blessings that this wasn't one of my loved ones. Mother nature is the only one to blame here and unforturnately she doesn't have a check book. Cancer is tragic and horrible too and those unfortunate family and friends don't receive a court award for the loss of their loved one. To say the fair or concert promoters are to blame is ludicris! They didn't want anyone to be hurt!
  • The band
    Sorry Fed up...many bands have more lighting, rigging, sound eq, etc. I know Kristian Bush personally...he has been out there doing this for 20 + years. He is as grateful for his success as anyone I have ever met, and I can guarantee you his thought, and the band's thought was, if the fans are out there braving the weather, we are going to perform. They had no clue the structure would collapse...they are musicians...people who have expertise in lighting and sound do those jobs...the band knows about these things, and what effect they are trying to get, but they certainly are not engineers, and if they were on their way out there to play, they were just lucky they were not hurt as well... they play the music. You can chastise them for not being out there with the safety personnel I suppose if you want, but the rest of it is, as people have noted, a tragic accident. We are quick to assess blame...many people retreated before the structure fell...but I am not going to pile on the victims by saying they should have moved too...I don't know what it was like. We love to judge in hindsight...it appears to be a tragedy that could have been prevented, and it is tragic that it was not. But it was not intentional...it was the last thing anyone could have wanted to have happen...there is absolutely nothing good that comes of something like this except that extra care will be taken in the future, for a while anyway...
  • Step Up Governor and Bypass The Lawyers
    How about the responsible parties just admitt fault and set up a compensation fund administered by a insurance claim adjusting firm to fairly administer the victim funds.

    No need to hire an attorney if people don't spend all thier time denying thier responsibilities to the victims. The sillier lawyer claims can just fend for themselves outside this framework like the 9/11 fund. That way most the funds go to victims not attorneys.
  • Indiana State Fair Tragedy
    Lot of highly-trained carnies managed to erect safe structures like rides, towers and a ferris wheel which had no problems in the same wind. They also shut down and got to safety before the storm arrived, like the crowd at Conner Prarie. Somebody connected with the concert had to make a call and they made a bad mistake.
  • Are you kidding me?
    Seriously? The promoter? I can hear the lawyers in court now: "How dare you decide to book a popular band for the benefit of thousands!"

    What about the band itself? That stage set up looked pretty elaborate (heavy). By the way, Sugarland was told that they should not perform and they said "no way, we are going out there." It collapsed before they made it out of the tunnel. Then everyone associated with the band hung out in the dressing rooms while hundreds of Hoosiers were helping those in need.
  • Was there negligence?
    I was on the track when it happened, we had started to move to the exit. The storm was 20 minutes away so it is tough to say that people should have been gone when the spokesperson said they were going to start the show in a couple of minutes. I believe the wind that far out in front of the storm was unusual. But the stage came down easier than I would have thought it would. That is where the guestions should be pointed.
  • Same old, same old
    “You’ve got 50 people injured, five who have been killed, and you’ve got $5 million in coverage,” Chamberlain said. “It’s nowhere close to fairly and adequately compensating the families.”

    Sure you can nitpick endlessly whether or not fair officials made the right call on the weather, but in the end no one wanted anyone to be hurt; it was an ACCIDENT. That's why I pay for life and disability insurance, so that if I'm injured my family is protected. I don't go trying to assess blame on others. And economic damages for those who don't have dependents? Since when does any amount of money compensate for the loss of a loved one? It doesn't. One million dollars? Five million dollars? It's an apples to oranges comparison. There's simply no equivalence between loss of life and money, unless you're a budding opportunistic plaintiff's lawyer. So, so disgusting.
  • I wondered
    Elaine, I agree when is an accident, just an accident) this is why insurance companies do not have 'stupidity clauses' they would go bankrupt with everyone suing for their own decisions
  • Personal Responsibility
    At what point do we hold ourselves accountable for our own decisions. While I feel really sorry for these families, they CHOSE to stay outside with the storm warnings! They CHOSE not to seek coverage, so why is everyone else responsible and supposed to pay!
    • Fairpocalypse 2011
      This is very disruptive.
    • I Wondered
      how long it would take for the vultures (I mean, lawyers) to jump into this. $5 million wouldn't be enough because they get 30-50%. Is an accident ever an accident? God Bless the families.
      • It's not scaffolding
        When will the media stop using the term "scafolding" when referring to the truss and ground support systems. Please use the correct terminology.
        "Saturday night’s accident happened when a wind gust estimated at 60 to 70 mph toppled the roof of the stage and the metal scaffolding holding lights and other equipment."

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