Indiana Fair Stage Collapse Legal Claims Reach 100

November 8, 2011

The deadline for victims of the deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse to file legal claims with the state has passed, and officials say they’re close to figuring out how much to pay each victim out of the allotted $5 million.

Nov. 1 was the deadline to submit tort claims, and the attorney general’s office said it had received 100 by the following day. Officials said in an emailed update that they’ll still accept more by mail as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 1.

The 100 claims cover everything from death of loved ones and serious injuries to emotional distress.

The attorney general’s office has been working with victims’ compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg and claimants’ lawyers to develop a system for paying out awards on the claims, and agency spokesman Bryan Corbin said officials are close to completing it. But individuals can collect no more than $700,000, and state law limits the total pool of money to $5 million. The attorney general’s office has said that families of people who died and those who were seriously injured will get priority.

“This is still a very fluid process,” Corbin told The Indianapolis Star, adding that the compensation discussions are part of settlement negotiations and, thus, confidential.

But the newspaper reported that attorneys say some people won’t get any money.

Attorney Kenneth Allen, who is representing the families of three people who died, told the newspaper that if the state pays out the $700,000 maximum to the families of the seven people who were killed it will eat up $4.9 million of the $5 million total, leaving about $100,000 for everyone else.

“How do you then compensate someone who says he was emotionally distressed when you’ve got to compare it to a claim from someone who lost her spouse?” Allen said.

He said allowing the state to craft a process to compensate the victims is like allowing a criminal to preside over his own trial. He believes the cases should be reviewed by judges and juries, and he has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Indiana’s $5 million liability cap.

The tort claim fund isn’t the only option, however. A separate State Fair Relief Fund to help victims will accept claims until Nov. 14. It consists of donations to help victims who were hospitalized as a result of the collapse.

Attorneys also are considering lawsuits against others involved in the scheduled Aug. 13 Sugarland concert, including the band and the company that made the stage. A gust of wind toppled the stage rigging onto the crowd as the band was preparing to take the stage, killing seven people and injuring more than 40 others.

“There’s not just one pocket here,” said Karen Celestino-Horseman, who represents a stagehand who sustained back and head injuries in the collapse.

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