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Stage company rejects Indiana State Fair settlement deal

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The owner of the stage that collapsed at Indiana's State Fair last year and killed seven people rejected a settlement plan Wednesday that would have protected the state from further legal action.

Mid-America Sound officials said not enough of the victims had agreed to the deal. Of the 62 claimants, which include people who were injured and the estates of those who died, only 51 agreed to the settlement by the Aug. 1 deadline.

Among those rejecting the deal were the families of three women killed when strong winds toppled the stage into a crowd on Aug. 13, 2011, according to their attorney. The temporary stage, leased to the state by Mid-America, fell shortly before country duo Sugarland was set to perform.

Mid-America spokeswoman Myra Borshoff Cook released a statement saying "the minimum participation requirements" specified in the proposed settlement weren't met. The statement didn't say how many of the victims were required, saying only that "a sufficient ratio of claimants from the largest claims categories" hadn't agreed to the settlement.

Cook didn't return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking clarification.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller had proposed the joint settlement, which asked victims to agree to settle their claims for shares of $6 million from the state and $7.2 million from Mid-America and the stage's manufacturer, James Thomas Engineering. In exchange, the victims would agree not to seek additional compensation.

The company's decision Wednesday scuttles a legal strategy Zoeller pursued to protect the state from a Mid-America lawsuit claiming the state would be on the hook for any damages victims won in court against the company.

Mid-America pointed to invoices signed by State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye after the stage collapse that included legal language clearing the company of any wrongdoing. The state argues that the invoices didn't constitute a legally binding contract, but state lawyers didn't want to test that assertion in court.

Following Mid-America's statement Wednesday, Zoeller said the state would immediately begin distributing the $6 million that lawmakers approved earlier this year for victims.

"It was worthwhile to try to bring the claimants and defendant companies together," Zoeller said. "But since the parties did not reach an agreement, we will move to distribute the original $6 million the Legislature appropriated, well before the January 2013 deadline, and we will continue to look for opportunities to serve the victims."

This year's state fair in under way in Indianapolis. It shut down for a moment of silence Monday, the one-year anniversary of the collapse, to honor the victims.

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