Updated March 23, 2019
The legal ramifications of the August 2011 collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair continue to make news, even four and a half years after the tragic accident that killed seven people and injured close to 100 others.
Mid-America Sound, the company that was responsible for the stage, claimed that the Indiana State Fair Commission took on the company’s liability when it agreed to pay an invoice submitted after the incident. The back side of that invoice included a clause stating that the Commission agreed to assume the costs of all claims against the company, even if they resulted from negligence.
The Commission argued that no such “retroactive indemnification” had been agreed to, holding that Mid-America’s attempt to shift liability to the State in this way amounted to little more than “a gotcha claim.” The Indiana Supreme Court agreed.
The stage collapse happened on August 13, 2011, when extremely high winds hit the State Fair just as a performance by the band Sugarland was about to get underway. In previous litigation, both Mid-America—which erected the stage structure—and the Commission have been found negligent for their actions leading up to the collapse.
A $50 million settlement was reached in late 2014 to resolve the claims of the survivors of the seven victims as well as many of those injured. The case has had larger ramifications, prompting a review of and proposed changes to the regulations used both in Indiana and nationwide for similar events.
In its decision, the Court sided unanimously with the Commission. The existing precedents in Indiana law set a very high bar when it comes to shifting the responsibility for negligence to another party, and past decisions have required that any contract language to that effect use “clear and unequivocal terms.” The Court found that Mid-America’s claim was based not on such precise language, but instead only on “a course of dealing,” so was not valid.
The Court also noted that when retroactive indemnity is involved the standard of proof is even higher than normal and that this standard had not been met. Mid-America remains liable for the amounts agreed to in judgements and settlements related to its negligence.
If you or a loved one have been injured on someone else’s property, contact the Indianapolis Premises Liability Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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