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Indiana State Fair disaster victims getting more relief

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 The Indiana attorney general's office sent out $6 million in checks Thursday to 59 victims of 2011's deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse.

The payments bring to $11 million the amount the state has paid to stage collapse victims. It had already paid $5 million, the limit for tort claims under Indiana law. The supplemental payments were approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced the payments at a Statehouse news conference, saying the second round of checks would take care of medical expenses for victims whose injuries weren't permanent. The state also has covered medical expenses through Nov. 15, 2011, for those who were paralyzed or have injuries that require ongoing care, said Special Deputy Attorney General Paul Mullin.

The Legislature also agreed to pay $700,000 to each of the estates of the seven people who died. So far, each estate has received $400,000.

Zoeller said the payments were appropriate "in light of all that the victims had to endure."

The stage rigging collapsed in strong wind as people were waiting for the country duo Sugarland to perform at the Indiana State Fair. Along with the seven killed, 60 people were injured.

An independent arbitration panel determined how much individuals would receive after reviewing evidence, such as medical bills and insurance payments, and face-to-face interviews with some victims and survivors and their attorneys.

Officials said the process, which was designed with assistance from victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, required far less time than it would have to try each case in court.

"This is light speed compared to regular litigation," said William Baten, who chaired the three-person arbitration panel.

The Legislature had set next month as the deadline for distributing the $6 million.

Victims agreed not to sue the state in return for the payments, but a statement from the attorney general's office said they can still pursue private litigation against other defendants. Numerous such lawsuits have already been filed against other defendants, including the band and the companies that made or set up the stage.

Attorney general's office spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state is a defendant in four stage collapse lawsuits pending in Marion County Court.

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