Settlement Negotiations Over Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse Lawsuit Fall Through; Settlement from State Government Still Pending

Victims of the stage collapse at the 2011 Indiana State Fair had until August 1, 2012 to approve a proposed settlement involving the State of Indiana, the owner of the collapsed stage, and the stage’s manufacturer. The stage owner rejected the settlement plan after the deadline, saying not enough plaintiffs had agreed. The Indiana Legislature approved two separate settlement amounts for the victims, but the state has not disbursed the second set of funds while the other settlement negotiations were in progress. Without a settlement of the plaintiffs’ claims, some of the defendants may attempt to file cross-claims against the state.

The stage collapse occurred at about 8:46 p.m. on August 13, 2011, as the country music band Sugarland was preparing to perform on the fair’s main stage, known as the Grandstand Stage. High winds from a nearby thunderstorm caused stage rigging and scaffolding to fall onto a crowd of fans. Seven people were killed, and more than fifty were injured. The Indiana State Fair Commission contracts private companies for many of the fair’s services. A private contractor produced the Grandstand Stage performances, and other contractors handled stage construction, sound and lighting, and other technical functions. An investigation by two engineering firms retained by the state concluded that the state could have been better prepared, that public safety protocols at the fair were not clear, and communication between fair officials and contractors regarding weather conditions was not good.

The first lawsuits, claiming negligence, premises liability, wrongful death, and other causes of action were filed within a week of the collapse. Plaintiffs sued the Indiana State Fair Commission, but state law limited any potential recovery to $700,000 per plaintiff, up to a total of $5 million for the incident. The state approved $5 million in payments to victims and their families. According to a payment plan announced by the state’s attorney general in December 2011, the families of the seven people killed in the collapse would receive at least $300,000 each. The remaining funds would be distributed among the fifty-eight most seriously injured survivors.

Other defendants included Sugarland; the owner of the stage, Mid-America Sound; and the manufacturer of the stage, James Thomas Engineering. The Indiana Legislature approved an additional $6 million in settlement funds for victims, and a proposed settlement would have added $7.2 million from Mid-America and James Thomas. The Attorney General reportedly proposed the settlement as a way to protect the state from possible cross-claims by Mid-America, which has alleged that the State Fair Commission released it from liability.

Plaintiffs had until an August 1 deadline to declare their approval of the settlement, which would still require a judge’s signature. At the time of the deadline, fifty-one of sixty-two victims or their representatives had approved the settlement. Mid-America announced on August 15 that it was rejecting the deal because its “minimum participation requirements” had not been met. Plaintiffs may still be able to obtain shares of the state’s $6 million fund if they agree not to seek further damages against the state.

The attorneys at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse represent the interests of Indiana accident victims and their families, helping them to obtain compensation for their damages. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers, contact us today online, or call us toll-free at (888) 532-7766.

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