State Fair stage collapse victims face Monday deadline
Families of the most seriously injured in the State Fair tragedy have until midnight to decide whether the gamble to get a bigger settlement from the state is worth the risk of walking away with less or even nothing.
So far, 49 claimants have agreed to take offers totaling more than $4.8 million. That leaves just $200,000 on the table. Chicago attorney Kenneth J. Allen says two of his recovering clients will walk away and take their chances, but not the families of the deceased.
Faced with the choice to take it or leave it, the vast majority of stage collapse victims or their families will accept the state's settlement. The estates of those who died could have sued for up to the $700,000 individual limit. But one by one the families of Alina BigJohny, Nathan Byrd, Glenn Goodrich, Jennifer Haskell, Christina Santiago, Meagan Toothman and Tammy Vandam all chose to take the sure bet of $300,000. Some of them are even going against legal advice.
"Essentially against our advice, these clients are really forced to go forward and accept these offers. They're in a position where they can't afford to take the risk," said Allen.
Allen calls the state's decision to pay the entire $5 million based on a formula unfair and unconstitutional. He and his clients who suffered injuries are saying no to the payout and moving ahead with a lawsuit against the state.
"In some circumstances the offers are so minimal and equate to nothing and these clients are not risking much by turning it down and going forward," said Allen.
Allen will also follow the attorneys for victims like 17-year-old Bradley Humphrey, and Jill and Jamie Polet. They were among a group of 42 victims who recently filed suit together against Sugarland, Mid America Sound and all of those involved in the set up of the stage, and the concert promotion the night of the tragedy.
"There are plenty of defendants in this case. Plenty of entities that have a finger in this mess and plenty of blame to go around," said Allen.
But for more than half of those who filed claims, there will be no lawsuit against the state. Once money changes hands, their claims against the state are over.
"The state's ploy has worked," Allen said.
At last count 49 of the 65 claimants offered settlements have agreed to take them, accounting for about 97 percent of that $5 million fund. The attorney general's office plans to get the checks out by the end of the year.
Each of the estates were offered $300,000 in death benefits.
Allen says his clients will seek a class action against the other entities involved in the Sugarland concert production. He's also seeking a constitutional appeal of the state's $5 million cap on the liability fund.