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Sugarland attorneys: Injured fair fans share in blame

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Attorneys for country duo Sugarland said concertgoers were at least partly to blame for injuries suffered in a stage collapse, drawing a sharp reaction from fans Tuesday and prompting the band's manager to issue a statement criticizing the finger-pointing.

Members of the band expressed shock and sadness after last summer's stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair killed seven people and injured dozens more.

But in their response to a civil lawsuit, the band's attorneys said injured fans "failed to exercise due care for their own safety" and contended some or all of their injuries "resulted from their own fault."

The comments outraged Haley Waggoner of Cincinnati, who was in the front row with her twin sister when the collapse happened and suffered a concussion that caused headaches and other problems for weeks.

"It disgusts me," said Waggoner, who has attended eight or nine Sugarland shows. "Through this whole process, I don't feel like the band cares that much about fans."

The band's attorneys also called the high winds that toppled the stage rigging an "act of God" and denied the band had any responsibility for the stage construction or to warn fans.

Waggoner said while the band couldn't control the weather and didn't build the stage, she believes Sugarland could have done more to warn concertgoers of the impending danger. She said she'll never see them live again.

"If they don't believe in us for something that isn't our fault, then I don't want to support them," she said.

Indianapolis attorney Carl Brizzi, who is representing the widow of Glenn Goodrich, a security guard killed in the collapse, said he was outraged that the band tried to distance itself from the tragedy.

"Sugarland has engaged in a public relations campaign to put the best light on its role in the avoidable tragedy," Brizzi said in a statement. "And this spin-doctoring of Sugarland's role in the case is both offensive and outlandish."

Sugarland attorney James H. Milstone would not elaborate Tuesday on the response to the civil lawsuit. But the band's manager issued a statement in which the duo tried to distance themselves from the claims in court documents.

"Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster," Sugarland said in a statement Gail Gellman issued to The Associated Press. "The single most important thing to Sugarland are their fans. Their support and love over the past nine years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them."

Another court document, however, casts doubt on the band's claim that its fans come first. In a Jan. 16 deposition on a lawsuit against the company that built the stage rigging, Indiana State Fair Commission Executive Director Cindy Hoye testified that Sugarland resisted delaying the start of the concert despite threatening weather. Hoye said the band expressed concerns about how a delay would affect the time lead singer Jennifer Nettles needed to warm up and complicate the band's travel to its next show.

Sugarland tour manager Hellen Rollens told IOSHA investigators that there was no discussion of delaying the show.

The band's legal response has clearly been designed to shift blame away from the band and back to fair officials, the company that erected the stage rigging and others. An Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration Investigation cited the fair, Mid-America Sound Corp. and the stagehands' union for violations in connections with the deaths of Goodrich and Nathan Byrd, a stagehand killed when the rigging collapsed.

Two other investigations examining the engineering of the structure and the state's response are pending.

The state has already paid out $5 million, the maximum allowed under Indiana law, to victims and their families. State lawmakers are considering adding another $5 million to $10 million to that to cover medical bills for those who suffered long-term injuries, but even that wouldn't be enough to cover future medical costs for the most seriously injured.

That makes Sugarland a natural focus for litigation.

It's common for bands to be named in lawsuits after injuries or deaths at a show. For example, families of the dead and injured filed 33 lawsuits against The Who after a 1979 stampede in Cincinnati. The Who settled out of court for a total of $2.1 million, plus an undisclosed sum for the family of one victim.

But one attorney involved in the Sugarland lawsuit said the band's response was strange.

"It's unusual to put the blame on victims," South Bend attorney Jeff Stesiak said Tuesday. "The concert wasn't canceled and they weren't told to leave. I can't imagine what the victims did to be at fault."

He disputed the Sugarland attorney's claim that an "open and obvious danger" existed before the collapse.

"An open and obvious danger is more like walking along a road and seeing a downed power line and walking over it anyway. The storm wasn't like that," Stesiak said.

The blame game isn't likely to end soon, even as lawmakers and fair officials work to prevent future incidents. A plan to require inspections of all large, temporary outdoor stages is advancing through the Legislature. And fair officials have moved all of this year's concerts indoors.

Ultimately, a jury may decide where fault lies. Sugarland's attorneys have requested a jury trial in the civil lawsuit.

Tina Williams of Indianapolis, who attended the concert, said there's plenty of blame to go around.

"Everyone has a little bit of ownership," Williams said. "Nobody can predict the weather. It was something that happened. I'm not upset with Sugarland."

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  • Lawyers clean up all details, since daddy had to lie.
    The "End of the Innocence" for Sugarland and their fans. They (the band) are insured, no doubt. The insurance company who insured them is not going to pay out multi millions in claims to the injured. They are going to do what they do in cases where injured file suit against hospitals and other public entities for damages...they are going to wear down the parties with litgation. Over time (years and years), all but the most serious litigants/cases will die off from exhaustion, or accept a settlement for a fraction of what they originally sought. This is how insurance companies do things, unsavory as it is...they don't make money by paying out claims, and insurance companies make lots of money. Their may be a couple of big money settlements, but I doubt there will be many, and we will have to see what parties are deemend responsible in the end.
    It is lousy public relations for Sugarland certainly, but the insurance company does not care about that as much as they care about maximizing the outcome for their side. Musicians tend to dispise the "business" part of the music business anyway. Having met Kristian Bush (pre-Sugarland) on several occasions back in the 90's when he was part of a duo called Billy Pilgrim, I can tell you he is a very decent guy, and likely was horrified at the statements made by the attorneys in question. But this incident is bigger than the parties...people got hurt or killed, they were involved with the tragedy, and attorneys for the injured will try to attach whoever has deep pockets, while attorneys for the parties being sued will try to limit same. That is just the way it works, and it seems inadequate and inhumane in situations like this. We feel bad for most all involved...the injured and deceased most, but also the band, the fair...no one wanted this to happen...it results in no good for anyone, except those collecting attorney fees. We don't like seeing someone make a living off of the misery of someone else, and the attorneys in this case are making it a little too obvious where their loyalty lies. They certainly could have staked out their legal grounds with a little more tact. But I think most people are not naive about the realities of this situation and where it is headed.
  • Absurd
    Ok, sure the weather was if'y at best, but on that night I happened to be in my backyard tending a fire when the wind sheared past me like nothing I had ever felt or probably will ever again in my life. So tell me you good people with so much god or learned judgement, how would or cold anyone be prepared for that type of circumstance? The weather forecast was ominous, but who among you have never went out into the elements and rolled the dice? The difference here is these people purchased tickets, which to me and maybe only me, means that to some degree they placed their well being at some level in the hands of the people that sold the tickets and created the venue. If I go to a thetare and the roof falls in, does that mean its my fault? "NO" and it does or should create a liablity toward the business that sold me the ticket that allowd me to be in that buidling and that did not send me homee. I agree, posting anything Carl Brizzy says is only asking for most opinions to be inflamed. As for Sugarland, they probably should deserve some of the liability
    25% - state fair
    60% - fair goers
    5% - mother nature
    10% - nobodies fault, crap happens and life is not fair
  • Accountability
    I agree with Terry and Self Responsibility; the concert fair goers need to take accountability as well and stop with the finger pointing. I myself was suppose to attend the fair that day with my granddaughter, but after watching the forcast decided it was not worth it to take the risk; and glad I did. Dont get me wrong I have true sympathy for the injured and the families that lost loved ones, but it was an accident a "act of god".. as stated by other individuals!
  • Please stop.....
    ...publishing any comments or opinions from the ex-prosecutor Mr. Brizzi. While I have compassion for all that were killed and injured in the accident, I, and suspect many others, feel that Mr. Brizzi has no credibility after he was forced from the public eye for his many wrong doings and highly questionable ethics while he was prosecutor. He is now just another ambulance chaser trying to grab the money and headlines for his own benefit.
  • Seems Harsh
    While the bands stance does seem harsh, there has to be some self accountability on the part of the fans. My sister was at the show, just to the right of the stage in regular seats. She looked up at the sky and did not like what she saw, so she took her daughter and moved toward the exit of the track just in case the storm let loose. It wasn't more than two or three minutes after she left that the wind hit. May have been luck that she left when she did, but to me one thing is clear, if the stage etc had been assembled correctly, perhaps the tradgedy could have been averted or at least been less impactful. Sugarland has deep pockets, but I won't "sugar" coat it, go after the union!!!! Maybe the union movement in Indiana can use this as one of the highlights of Unions in their response to RTW!
  • It is Called Proper Lawyering
    Henry, if you have ever been involved in civil litigation (regardless of which side), then you understand that the band's legal stance is typical for this sort of situation.

    Generally, a big band like Sugarland would have an insurance policy to insure against these sort of claims. So, the attorneys are most likely chosen by the insurance company.

    Unless an insurance company wants to go bankrupt and leave its policyholders in the lurch, it cannot just pay out any claim made against one of its insured.

    Yes, people got injured, but that does not mean it is legally the fault of the band. In order to collect damages, you have to prove not only that you suffered damages, but that the party you are suing is legally the cause of your injury.

    So, unless the insurance company wants to just admit liability and pay out whatever claims are being made against the band, something no insurance company would ever do, then in their legal pleadings they are going to take the position that the band is not responsible for the injuries and point to other parties that may be liable, or share liability.

    This is how civil litigation matters generally unfold. And, the hand-wringing and Polly Anna attitudes of those unfamiliar with how civil litigation works, while perhaps understandable given their unfamiliarity with the process, does not change the nature of the system.

  • Take Personal Responsibility
    Not all accidents can be foreseen or prevented. Patrons need to take personal responsibility for there own actions as well. 'STOP' waiting for someone to tell you to evacuate, to alter plans, or take cover. Point the fingers back at yourselves. If you felt threatened due to severe weather, then you should have taken action without law enforcement, fair officials, or whomever to make the call. Personal responsibility. Tragic as it was... it was an accident.
  • How abou that
    Interesting how it certainly appears that the Sugarland legal stance is diametrically opposed to their public statements.
    • Early 90's PGA Golf @ Crooked Stick
      How about comparing the events leading to the storm and the lightening death at this event. I remember running for my life from the 17th hole. I dropped my umbrella and ran as fast as I could to my car just as lightening struck. People in crowds do not always act rationale. Earlier that same day a massive storm rolled thru and left with no one leaving and no problem. Fast forward to the afternoon and that was a different story. These deaths at the fair were not caused by lightening. But high winds and a perhaps overloaded stage and or structural issues. Did fair officials focus on lightening only and were negligent as to winds and their destruction of a stage and resulting death and injuries. I think they are at fault. Fans justifiably relied on Fair Officials to make the safety call. Now at PGA events the horn blows and you leave.
    • Agree
      From the start, I questioned why anyone would stand out in the weather that presented the potential for a tornado. The accident was nothing more than a freak of nature, and while I feel sorry for those injured and killed, I continue to wonder why a perfectly good coliseum was directly across the street from this accident, and not considered for concerts until after the fact.

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