Sugarland insurer sues state fair over stage collapse

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The insurance company that covered equipment used by performers Sugarland and Sara Bareilles is trying to recover its losses from the tragic stage collapse two years ago.

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., based in Novato, Calif., and its subsidiary AGCS Marine filed a lawsuit Aug. 9 in Marion County to recover equipment-related losses, which aren’t specified, from the state of Indiana, Indiana State Fair Commission, and several parties that were involved in designing and erecting the stage that collapsed Aug. 13, 2011. Seven people were killed.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include James Thomas Engineering Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., Mid-America Sound Corp. of Greenfield, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 30, and six other firms involved in the stage design.

The lawsuit echoes findings issued last year by an independent investigator, Thornton Tomasetti, which the state fair commission hired to review the incident.

In a report that was expected to bolster victims' lawsuits, Thornton Tomasetti said the stage rigging didn’t meet industry safety standards and called the support system that was in place “grossly inadequate.” The rigging that held lights and speakers was supported by guy wires attached to concrete jersey barriers.

Parts of the support system began to give way with wind gusts at 33 miles per hour, and the system could no longer support itself at gusts of 43 miles per hour, Thornton Tomasetti found. Industry standards require systems to withstand winds of up to 68 miles per hour.

The stage collapse at about 8:49 p.m. caused substantial damage to insured video screena and to the performers' instruments and sound equipment, the suit says.

Fair organizers weren’t required to have the stage inspected because it was a temporary structure. State officials have since instituted rules governing temporary outdoor stage rigging structures.

Fireman’s alleges negligence and product liability on the part of firms involved in designing and building the stage rigging. The company also claims that the state breached its oral contract with Sugarland to “provide suitable staging accommodations that would protect all persons and equipment involved … from any inclement weather conditions.”

State fair spokesman Andy Klotz said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, but he noted that the fair no longer uses temporary staging of any sort.

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