Fair Stage Collapse Not Foreseeable, Indiana Appeals Court Rules

It’s been nearly six years since a deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair killed seven concertgoers and injured 58 others in Indianapolis. Now, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled as a matter of law the company paid to provide security to the main event band, Sugarland, could not have reasonably foreseen the collapse of the stage. That ruling in a recent case is one of the last of several personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed against some three dozen defendants as a result of the horrific accident. 

Back in 2014, attorneys for several of those injured and relatives of some killed reached a $50 million settlement against 19 of 20 defendants, including the state of Indiana, which paid $11 million. The details of how that settlement was paid out (which plaintiffs received what) was kept confidential. It was noteworthy not just for the size of the damages awarded, but also for the fact it was the first time in Indiana a lesbian widow received a settlement for the wrongful death of her wife.

The incident occurred in August 2011 when the opening act had just finished, and Sugarland was preparing to take the stage. A large gust of wind from an approaching severe thunderstorm hit the stage’s temporary roof structure, which caused it to collapse, landing on many in the crowd. The issue of foreseeability was raised because there were numerous reports, notices, and warnings throughout the day of the concert from the National Weather Service, indicating that severe thunderstorms were likely. These messages were received by state fair officials through the automated text messaging system.

In this most recent claim, the plaintiffs accused 35 defendants – including the security company – of playing some role in failing to act in shutting down the concert and protecting concertgoers. The plaintiffs alleged the security company owed a duty of care to both the band and those attending the concert.

Court records indicate there was no written contract between the state fair and the security company, but the fair hired the security company for the purpose of fulfilling the fair’s security obligations.

At around 6:30 p.m., the executive director for the fair called for an impromptu meeting because it appeared the bad weather was coming in close to the show time. The security company was not asked to attend that meeting, nor did it. The meeting was held about 1.5 hours later, and those involved decided to delay the show. However, the band didn’t want to delay the show. The state fair again held another meeting and again asked the band to delay. The band again refused. However, the security company wasn’t consulted on this. The state fair representatives later said they believed the band had the final say.

State fair representatives then went on stage and told the crowd that the show would go on but that they may need to halt it midway through. The state police captain was surprised by this and believed the show needed to be called off immediately. He then said to his colleagues, “We’re calling this off right now.” It was just before that announcement could be made that the stage collapsed due to the high wind.

The trial court granted the security firm’s motion for summary judgment, finding as a matter of law it owed no duty of care to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the security company owed a duty of care to them. However, the appellate court affirmed.

Generally, in order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff needs to show the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and an injury to the plaintiff resulted from that breach. Absent duty, there can be no breach.

In this case, the court held that the duty was contingent on the foreseeability of the incident. Here, the court noted that the security company was never consulted as a decision-maker in the determination of whether the concert should be canceled or delayed. Furthermore, evidence was presented to indicate most security firms come to the stage assuming it is properly constructed and inspected. Possible stage collapse isn’t something most security firms contemplate, and thus, the company had no duty.

However, Indiana personal injury and wrongful death claims against other defendants may still proceed.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Jill et al v. ESG Security Inc., Dec. 27, 2016, Indiana Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Wrongful Death Lawsuit: INDOT Liable for Fatal Indiana Crash, Jan. 16, 2017, Highland Injury Attorney Blog

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