Sugarland places some state fair blame on victims


After the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, Lisa Hite had to deal with the physical pain and doctor bills. Now Hite has another bitter pill to swallow.

Her granddaughter's beloved country band, Sugarland, says it's her fault she's hurt.

"We now live in: before Sugarland and after Sugarland," the nurse told 13 Investigates. "The impact of this will affect us forever," she said, clearly unhappy about the band's legal stance.

In a response to a lawsuit filed by more than 40 victims of the August 13th stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, Sugarland's Attorney blames the injured, saying, "some or all of the plaintiffs' claimed injuries resulted from their own fault." The document goes on to say that "some or all of the plaintiffs failed to exercise due care for their own safety," "failed to mitigate damages" and "knowingly and voluntarily assumed and/or incurred the risk of injury to themselves."

"I think that is wrong," said Hite, who called the statement "cowardly."

"They weren't thinking about their fans. They were thinking about themselves," added Hite's attorney, Mario Massillamany.

Indiana University law professor Andrew Klein found nothing surprising about Sugarland's legal defense.

"In Indiana it is possible that if a victim's negligence caused her own injury, she could be partially or fully precluded from recovering in tort law," Klein explained, careful not to take sides.

Sugarland also says the collapse "resulted from a gust of wind of unprecedented intensity" and called it "a true accident...or act of God."

The group denied all responsibility, including claims that band leaders refused to cancel the show.

"One of their singers didn't want to warm up again, and two they were concerned more about financial concerns," Massillamany said.

Late Tuesday, Sugarland's manager Gail Gellman told CNN Entertainment: "Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster. The single most important thing to Sugarland are their fans. Their support and love over the past 9 years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them."

In a sworn deposition, State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye told state investigators that Sugarland refused to delay the show twice because they were concerned about a late start to Iowa, where they were scheduled to play the following day.

The investigator asked, "So the second request to delay the show was refused by Sugarland?"

"Correct," Hoye said, adding that the band also would not agree to moving people away from the "Sugar Pit," which was the area closest to the stage.

"And just to be clear, Sugarland said no to your plan ?" the investigator followed up.

"Right," Hoye responded.

Klein, who has been involved with tort law for more than 20 years, calls this a complex case.

"There are disputes not only between the victims and the various defendants, but there are obviously disputes between the defendants themselves," he said, referring to the number of defendants.

This afternoon attorney Carl Brizzi issued a statement on behalf of the family of Glenn Goodrich, a security officer killed in the collapse.

Brizzi says he was shocked and saddened by the statements on behalf of the band and "this spin-doctoring of Sugarland's role in the case is both offensive and outlandish."

The state of Indiana is not named in the lawsuit.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller paid victims $5 million from the state's liability fund in December. Lawmakers are considering legislation to pay out an additional $5 million.

See Sugarland's full response

Full response from Carl Brizzi, plaintiffs' attorney:

"As the attorney representing a widow and two children in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, I am shocked and saddened by the inappropriate and callous statements issued by the lawyers on behalf of the band Sugarland.

Heather Goodrich and her two boys are victims of a tragic and terrible mishap that could have been avoided if those responsible had done the right thing. That was to heed the warnings of experts and postpone the show until severe weather dissipated.

Glenn Goodrich is a hero in everyone's minds. He heroically tried to save the lives of those who were injured. In the process of carrying out his duty as a security guard for the Indiana State Fair, it was Glenn who became the victim.

Sugarland's response is a carefully crafted legal document that inappropriately attempts to distance the band from the responsibilities incumbent upon the show performers as to the safety of their fans. In fact, Sugarland has engaged in a public relations campaign to put the best light on its role in the avoidable tragedy. And this spin-doctoring of Sugarland's role in the case is both offensive and outlandish.

Heather Goodrich and her two sons must live their lives without a husband and father. There's no way around the fact this terrible accident could have been avoided had the right people made the correct choice at the right time."