State announces settlement offer for fair victims


Staring down potentially a hundred lawsuits, the State of Indiana wants to make a deal.

It's offering settlements to more than half of those injured and the estates of all seven killed as a result of the State Fair stage collapse August 13.

Here's the catch: There's no admission of responsibility, the amounts are well below the $700,000 amount some victims could collect by law and, if accepted, the victims agree not to sue the state.

"The tort claim limit is $5 million, regardless if we're more liable or less liable, all of those things could be argued, but years of litigation to decide who's at fault would give them no more funds than I can offer now," said Attorney General Greg Zoeller

"This is a rather unique experiment in public policy," said Washington D.C. claims expert Ken Feinberg. "No amount of money will make people whole," he added, as he joined Zoeller in explaining the criteria for splitting the state's $5 million liability fund.

The goal, they said, was to compensate the most serious injured.

The state is offering $300,000 each of the seven death claims, for a total of just over $2 million. Those same estates will get varying amounts of another $83,000 based on the victim's age, education, salary and dependents.

Fifty-eight individuals, including Jill Polet and her daughter Jaymie, four-year-old Maggie Mullen and her mom Laura, Crispus Attucks High School student Brad Humphrey, Pendleton resident Andrea Vellinga and stagehand Enoch Vinnegar are all being offered payments of 65 percent of their medical expenses.

This fund did not require an overnight hospital stay.

"The medical expenses seemed to give us more reach," said Zoeller, explaining the reason behind the formula.

All tolled, the 58 injury claim offers amount to $2.6 million. The formula also made a special exception for permanent paralysis of a child, which means Brad Humphrey would receive an extra $182,000 dollars.

"There was a sense among the attorneys that that was a strong basis for our criteria," added Zoeller.

Still, at least 31 people injured that night, including a stagehand, won't be getting anything.

Anthony Mancuso's claim didn't make the cut.

"We had to make some difficult, extremely difficult decisions about which injured victims would receive payment out of a limited pool of funds," Zoeller explained.

The offers come as the governor and residents across the state await official word of what caused the tragedy.

Tuesday, Governor Mitch Daniels indicated he would like the team he brought in to review the State Fair's preparedness and response to release those findings. He says the report is being withheld until the structural investigation is complete.

"I do think it would be good for all of us, the public and all of us, to begin to get some sense of what was not done well," said Daniels.

Claimants and their attorneys have until December 12 to accept or decline the state's offer.

The attorney general has already paved the way with the State Budget Agency and auditor's office to get these checks out before the end of the year.

From the Associated Press

The state is offering at least $300,000 to families of each of the seven people who died after a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, with more available for those whose loved ones spent days hospitalized before their deaths, Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Tuesday.

The rest of the money from the state's $5 million tort fund would go to 61 victims injured Aug. 13 when powerful winds toppled the stage onto fans waiting to see country music group Sugarland. The state also reached a special agreement to pay $500,000 to a 17-year-old boy who suffered full-body paralysis in the crash, Zoeller said.

If families and victims agree to the payments, they wouldn't be allowed to sue the state. Indiana law caps the state's liability at $5 million, and some victims' families have already filed lawsuits challenging that limit. The offers must be accepted or rejected by Monday.

"Deciding how much to pay the victims was extremely difficult," Zoeller said. "Having recognized the limitations, I'll say that no amount of money can ever replace the lives lost or alleviate the anguish endured by the victims of our state fair tragedy."

Zoeller worked with victims' attorneys and claims expert Kenneth Feinberg, who directed victims' payments after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Gulf Coast oil spill last year and the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.

Lawyers for some of the victims scoffed at the amounts Tuesday, but acknowledged that Zoeller's hands were tied.

Attorney Mario Massillamany said his client Lisa Hite suffered head injuries and a fractured heel but was offered only about $7,000. Her medical bills are already six times that amount, let alone her lost wages and future bills.

"That's woefully inadequate," Massillamany said. "Unfortunately that's the most they can offer because of the $5 million cap. We pray that the General Assembly is willing to look into this issue to help these injured victims recover some of their economic losses, to try to make the victims whole again."

Attorney Kenneth J. Allen represents the estates of three people killed in the collapse, along with three women who were injured, in a federal lawsuit trying to get Indiana's tort claims law thrown out.

"The State has chosen to proceed with a half-baked process which fails to account for the future consequences caused by its negligence. What about future medical bills, impairment and wage loss?" Allen said in a statement. "The State's plan considers none of these things in a careful and prudent fashion. Instead it is a series of rash decisions based on scant evidence."

Zoeller and Feinberg developed a model, based in part on medical expenses submitted to the state, that suggested paying a baseline $300,000 for each of the seven victims who died. Those who suffered physical injuries would have 65 percent of their expenses covered. Feinberg noted that is fairly common for victims of tragedies like the stage collapse to receive only partial coverage for their medical bills.

Money from rejected offers would be redistributed to victims using a system that would first cover the rest of their medical expenses and pay above that for those who died and suffered physical injuries.

Zoeller said the state's $5 million liability cap should be debated during the 2012 legislative session, though he wouldn't say whether the Legislature should raise the limit.

"I'm not ready to say what I would recommend to my client, the Indiana General Assembly," Zoeller said.

If lawmakers do raise the cap on payouts, the victims of the stage collapse could again apply for more compensation from the state, Zoeller said.

(Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)