Critics: Indiana law encouraging ‘blame game’ in State Fair stage collapse


Tuesday marks the two-year anniversary of the stage rigging collapse at the Indiana State Fair that killed seven people and injured dozens more. It's also the deadline for any one injured during the collapse to file a lawsuit.

13 Investigates has covered the investigation extensively and now shows why some believe an Indiana law is creating more defendants and forcing major delays in justice.

Two years have passed and there is no end in sight for the families of those who died or suffered severe injuries, when the stage rigging at the Indiana State Fair collapsed under a 59-mph wind gust.

The wreckage has long been cleared, the legislature adopted new rules on stage inspections, and the Indiana Attorney General paid out $11 million as part of a state settlement. Yet no one is taking full responsibility for what happened.

Families are now left with civil lawsuits against 49 defendants at last count including: Mid America Sound, the company that owned the rigging; IATSE Local 30, the union in charge of putting it up the rigging; and Lucky Star, the parent company of the band Sugarland.

"We represent parents who lost their children, children who lost their parents, spouses who lost their loved ones," said Chicago Injury Attorney, Ken Allen.

Allen represents the estates of at least three of the seven who died: Christiana Santiago, Alina BigJohny, and Tammy VanDam.

From his law office, Allen told 13 Investigates he's had to file lawsuits wherever a finger pointed because of Indiana's "non-party" defense law.

"It permits a defendant who is sued to say essentially, 'No, it wasn't me. It was XYZ or ABC." Allen explained. "It really is a foolish law, but it's the law in Indiana and that is the sole reason why this case has dragged on for so long," he said.

The state's investigation blamed structural design, a lack of bracing, slow decision making and no evacuation.

Allen agrees and makes no apologies for who he says is ultimately responsible.

"At the top we've got Sugarland and Sugarland's promoters," he said without hesitation. "We believe and have always believed that the decision tree starts at the top and that's with the promoters of this event and the performers of this event because that's ultimately they have the final say as to whether the show goes on or it doesn't," he added.

Allen's lawsuits name both Mid America and Local 30 but says the union is a victim of blame shifting.

"They are in this case again because they were blamed by other defendants under this non-party defense act, and that's frankly a shame in my view," he said.

WTHR reached out to both Sugarland and Mid America Sound, but no one was available for comment.

The civil cases already filed and combined in Marion County, are set to go to trial in February 2014.

The next hearing is set for later this month. Again, anyone who is not part of those lawsuits only has Monday to file legal action, as the Statute of limitations expires on Tuesday, the second anniversary.