Families of collapse victims may see little compensation

The grandstand stage at the State Fair collapsed August 13.

INDIANAPOLIS - Some families won't see a dime of settlement money from the state after the tragedy at the Indiana State Fair.

Seven people have died and others are still hospitalized with critical injures more than a week after the rigging on the grandstand stage collapsed August 13. Cincinnati native Meagan Toothman will likely be the seventh victim of the tragedy once her organs are donated Monday afternoon.

But without a spouse or children, under Indiana law, the 24-year-old Toothman's family will be entitled to a maximum of $300,000 for medical and funeral expenses, as well as "loss of love and companionship."

"It's harsh. It's discriminatory. It's unfair," said personal injury attorney Bruce Kehoe.

Kehoe, who does not represent any of the State Fair victims, says there should be no maximum amount.

"As a parent you can have a child go all the way through college and they graduate and the measure of your loss is capped at $300,00. That's seemingly unconscionable," Kehoe said.

Indiana law will prevent some victim's relatives from receiving any compensation at all. That's because in at least one case, the state does not recognize that the victim was married.

Beth Urschel, who was injured in the collapse and who's life partner, Tammy VanDam, was killed, filed suit last week.

"We had so many plans and things we wanted to do. This was her birthday weekend and I was taking her down to see her favorite band," Urschel said at a news conference last week.

Even though the two were joined in a civil union in Hawaii ten years ago, Urschel won't be able to collect damages as a spouse, because Indiana does not recognize same-sex marriage.

But while Parker City native Jennifer Haskell was 22 without a spouse or children, her family could be entitled to up to $700,000 dollars. That's because, since she was still in school and under 23, she is considered a child, so her parents are entitled to greater compensation.

Total compensation from the state cannot exceed $5 million, so when the investigation is complete, in addition to Indiana, many private companies will likely be sued.