INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers presented their decision to offer an additional $6 million to victims of a deadly stage collapse at last year’s state fair as a way to help those who weren’t adequately compensated by its first settlement. But buried in the legislation was a clause protecting the state from having to pay even more.
The clause sought by Attorney General Greg Zoeller enabled him to tie the state money to a settlement with the company that owned the stage, and thrust the state into the role of negotiator as lawsuits swirled over the Aug. 13, 2011, stage collapse.
The state would make $6 million available, and victims could share another $7.2 million offered by the stage owner and manufacturer if they agreed not to sue the companies.
“This is about putting victims first,” Zoeller said in a June 22 press release announcing the combined settlement, which he said lawmakers had approved.
What Zoeller didn’t tout was that the enhanced settlement also was designed to shield the state from potentially paying out even more for the collapse.
It’s still unclear whether the settlement will stand. Zoeller’s office has said a “sufficient number” of victims must accept the offer for it to go forward, but it won’t say what that number is. The state has secured waivers from 51 of the 62 victims and their estates, agreeing to clear Mid-America Sound and stage manufacturer James Thomas Engineering of any wrongdoing. The companies have until Aug. 15 to decide whether that’s enough for them to agree to the settlement and let the state off the hook.
Attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who represents the estates of three women killed in the collapse, says the victims’ families are appalled that the state is carrying water for a private company. The families have refused to agree to the settlement because they don’t think the companies should be released from responsibility. They’ve filed a lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court objecting to the deal.
“My victims are most interested in justice here, and that’s not going to be done by backroom deals,” Allen said.