Lawsuit by fair victims challenges Indiana's $5M tort cap

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An Indiana law that caps the state's liability for damages at $5 million for a single event violates the U.S. and state constitutions and should be thrown out, six plaintiffs suing over the deadly collapse of an Indiana State Fair stage argue in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on behalf of the estates of three of the seven people killed in the Aug. 13 collapse and three others who were injured seeks class-action status on behalf as many as 70 plaintiffs. The lawsuit said the state liability cap violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment as well as federal laws and the Indiana Constitution.

"If the people who caused the harm are held to account for it, then I guarantee you they will take the safety measures next time to prevent it," said attorney Kenneth J. Allen of Valparaiso, who represents the plaintiffs.

"On the other hand, if they're protected from being held to account, as they are with this kind of cap on damages, then they're not going to take those safety measures and the same kind of thing will happen again and again," Allen said.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued a statement saying his office will defend the liability cap. It has brought in victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to help distribute the $5 million to victims "fairly and equitably."

"We will not wait for litigation in order to move forward in providing compensation to victims," Zoeller said.

The accident happened as fairgoers awaited the scheduled start of a concert by country music duo Sugarland. Stage riggings collapsed as high winds swept into Indianapolis ahead of a severe storm.

Zoeller's office has received notice of more than 20 lawsuits filed on behalf of the seven victims killed and more than 40 other people who were injured. Zoeller has asked them and their families to file a tort claim form by Nov. 1 to seek a portion of the $5 million. The form can be found at here.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estates of Tammy Jean Vandam of Wanatah and her partner, Janeen Beth Urschel; Christina Santiago of Chicago and her partner, Alisha Brennon; Alina Bigjohny of Fort Wayne; and Tamara Porter of Hancock County. Porter, Urschel and Brennon were injured when the stage and some of its rigging collapsed amid high winds that swept through the state fairgrounds on Indianapolis' north side.

Separately from the $5 million state liability cap, the State Fair Commission has approved payouts from a relief fund of $35,000 to the families of the seven people killed, $25,000 to injured concertgoers if they were hospitalized at least 10 days; $7,500 if they were hospitalized four to nine days; and $3,000 to those hospitalized for one to three days.


  • acts of GOD
    Aren't high winds before a huge storm part of an act of GOD and not covered. They should be glad they are getting that.

    I believe the $5 million limit should be lowered; since it is a taxpayer burden, etc.

    Compensate them for what they have insured themselves for; which is most likely much lower.
  • Responsibility
    A big wind knocked down the stage. The Farris Wheel didn't fall down, cars weren't overturned, no telephone polls down, no trees uprooted, no bridges fell, no big power outages, no businesses closed, and the roofs remained on all the fairground buildings. A number of people were killed and quite a bunch were hurt.
    All expenses should be paid for by the responsible parties. There is really no excuse for those responsible to not fully take care of those injured. I don't like frivolous law suites any more than the next guy, but it is imperative that the responsible parties have a huge incentive to not be so negligent in the future, OR are no longer allowed to be in a position to screw up this bad again.
  • JEB wrote hostile comment
    JEB - you know the horrific and hostile comments your previously wrote that were taken down - wishing the deaths of others who happen to be gay, in addition to taking delight in the death being discussed. Differing views are welcome - but not the spewing hostility that you posted, and IBJ appropriately removed.
  • Meany Attorneys
    If these lawsuits fail...the attorneys that brought them should be fined the amount that the tax payers will have to pay. This might slow down the moronic lawsuits. Dear IBJ, I hope I did not offend you or your readers. Please do not take my post down, as I did not call the attorneys what I should have called them.
  • LIfe Insurance
    Did any of the individuals that past away, from this storm have life insurance? Are the responsible tax payers suppose to pay for their life insurance and pay for less responsible people when it storms, and someone is injured or killed? I think our friend from Chicago spends more time protesting than working, therefore, thinks it has found a way to obtain a free ride. If I offend anyone...I do apologize profusely for stating my opinion. Please IBJ, don't remove my post...I did not say anything bad about the girl who lost her girlfriend, and her lawsuit against our state because we do not recognize gay marriage...just like her state!!!!!!!! AND our Nation!!!!!!!
  • Speak your mind
    Do not say what is really on your mind when posting comments on the IBJ if you are not gay, you are a christian, you are a republican, and you dissagree with being "politically correct". If you do, the IBJ will take your comments down. Now, if you are gay, a dumbocrat, and do not believe in God, please feel free to send your comments as they will be posted for sure!
  • Not Held to Account?
    "if they're protected from being held to account, as they are with this kind of cap on damages"...wait a minute! The state of Indiana (meaning us taxpayers)is going to get hit for $5Mil for something that at least arguably is not the state's fault. It is ludicrous some self-interested lawyer to assert that the state engages in a pattern of either negligently or intentionally endangering the lives of its citizens because its money damages are capped at a "paltry" $5 Mil per occurence.
    • Lawsuit
      Is there no limit? So, if a meteor drops out of the sky, does Ken Nunn sue God? So, now the lawyer dudes want to make all the taxpayers responsible for the tragic deaths and injury.

      Sure, if it were my family, I would want to seek recompense, but not from my neighbor.

      Stop the madness.......
      • Say What?
        Call me crazy, but aren't laws written by the legislature? Why wouldn't ken allen just go to the legislature? Oh yeah, thats right, he wouldn't get his $100,000 of free publicity from the newspapers. Please quit giving this dude a forum for nonesense.

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      1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

      2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

      3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

      4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

      5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.