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Last week the first wrongful death lawsuit was filed as a result of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, on behalf of 42 year old Tammy VanDam, naming Mid-America Sound Corp, Live Nation Worldwide, and Lucas Entertainment Group as defendants, in allegations that organizers “did not reasonably exercise due care in the design, set-up, configuration, layout, and construction of the concert stage area.” Because the public venue solicited paying customers, organizers owed concertgoers at least a reasonable duty of care against injury to fans. If the defendants are found to have been negligent in inspection or preparation of the facility, i.e. if the collapse could have reasonably been prevented, they could be held tortiously liable to the plaintiff’s survivors and required to pay damages. As one attorney stated, “the structure failed in the environment it was designed to be used in,” likely a breach of the venue’s duty of care.
Concert organizers could also be found to have violated safety guidelines mandated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSHA guidelines provide for up to a $500,000 fine for willful safety code violations that result in the death of an employee following a criminal conviction. Indeed, the family of security guard Glenn Goodrich, also killed at the scene, has filed a lawsuit against the state and the Indiana State Fair Board and Commission.
Additionally, a class action lawsuit has been filed by Indianapolis law firm Cohen & Malad, LLP, on behalf of Angela Fisher, who was at the event and alleges emotional trauma. Damages against the state are capped at $700,000 per person, or $5 million for the entire event, though the state has the power to waive the cap.
Though the class action suit faces greater challenges because of the inherent difficulty in proving injury in emotional distress tort cases, wrongful death lawsuits have a good chance to prevail. Though natural elements that were clearly out of the control of organizers came into play - winds were recorded at 70 mph – the weather was not so severe as to be considered “unforeseeable.” Because the stage failed in a situation in which it should not have, and in one that was reasonably foreseeable, negligence in inspection and construction, or at least the failure to evacuate, is likely to be found.
– Susan Reilly
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