Since this very unfortunate event this past Saturday, I have had a number of inquires regarding what are the legal rights of the victims of this tragedy. My thoughts are there are probably two and perhaps three culpable parties whose negligence caused or contributed to this incident and who may have legal liability for those who were injured.
First, Indiana State Fair officials appear to have been remarkably slow in making a decision to evacuate the outdoor arena where this tragedy occurred. Records indicate that the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning an hour or more before this storm struck the State Fairgrounds, and indeed that another nearby outdoor event where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was performing was canceled and the crowd evacuated. However, under Indiana law the liability of State officials is capped at $700,000 per person and a total of $5,000,000 for the entire event. In view of the number of individuals who were killed or seriously injured, these funds are woefully inadequate.
The other culpable party who may be partially responsible for this tragedy is the company who erected and/or constructed the stage area that collapsed. It is too soon to tell exactly why this stage collapsed, but most structural engineers agree that this stage should have been able to withstand a 70 mph wind gust. Therefore, it would appear that this stage was improperly installed, designed, or manufactured. It is unknown at this point how much liability insurance was carried by the corporation who manufactured and/or installed this stage.
Another likely development will be that health insurers who have paid accident related medical expenses will also be claiming that they are entitled to be reimbursed what they have paid from these liability insurance proceeds. For victims that had no health insurance and required expensive medical care, it is also likely that the hospitals that provided this care will file hospital liens on the liability insurance proceeds for any unpaid medical expenses.
So all in all, this is likely to be a red-hot mess in sorting out what caused this stage to collapse, and how the funds that are available will be distributed. In this regard, the assistance of experienced legal counsel will be very important to make sure these victims are not shortchanged.