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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Trial court rules on summary judgment motions in State Fair Stage Collapse litigation [Updated]

From a brief AP story March 11th:

INDIANAPOLIS — The state can't be held responsible for work performed by the contractor that built the stage rigging that gave way during the 2011 Indiana State Fair stage collapse, a judge ruled.

The Indiana attorney general's office said Tuesday that a Marion County judge had denied Mid-America Sound Corporation's claim that the state is financially responsible for the cost of its defense and any judgments against it. * * *

Mid-America argued that the state was obligated by its contract to cover the company's legal costs. But Judge Theodore Sosin disagreed in a two-page ruling.

Mid-America had claimed that the State had indemnified Mid-America against claims.

The ILB posted about this contention in 2012. From Aug. 8, 2012, quoting an AP story that reported:

Invoices signed by fair executive director Cindy Hoye in the months after the collapse include an "indemnification" clause that requires the fair to assume all responsibility for any judgments, fines, injuries and loss of life resulting from use of the equipment and to hold the companies harmless.

Fair spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland referred questions about the invoices to the attorney general's office Tuesday.

Attorneys for Mid-America claim the invoices constitute binding contracts, a contention the state disputes. But after the state had already paid $5 million, and with lawmakers prepare to provide $6 million more, Zoeller decided it was better not to test that argument in court.

A post by the ILB from the following day discussed how what was purported to be a valid state contract amendment could not be, because it had not gone through the requisite state approval and signature process.

However, an Aug. 16, 2012 story by Tom LoBianco of the AP reported that Mid-America rejected the state's settlement plan, meaning that:

The company’s decision Wednesday scuttles a legal strategy Zoeller pursued to protect the state from a Mid-America lawsuit claiming the state would be on the hook for any damages victims won in court against the company.

Mid-America pointed to invoices signed by State Fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye after the stage collapse that included legal language clearing the company of any wrongdoing. The state argues that the invoices didn’t constitute a legally binding contract, but state lawyers didn’t want to test that assertion in court.

But in the end the State won on this point in court. In a press release dated March 11, 2014 the Attorney General's office announced:
INDIANAPOLIS – In an important legal victory for the State of Indiana, a Marion County court has ruled the State is not responsible for defending or assuming the liability for the private company that supplied the stage rigging that collapsed at the Indiana State Fair on August 13, 2011.

In ongoing litigation stemming from the seven fatalities and multiple injuries in the stage-rigging collapse, Marion County Superior Court 2 Judge Theodore Sosin ruled against Mid-America Sound Corp. and in favor of the Indiana State Fair Commission. Mid-America Sound had claimed it had a contractual right to be indemnified by the State – that is, the private company claimed that its civil liability and legal defense were the State’s financial responsibility – something the State vigorously denied. In denying Mid-America’s motion for partial summary judgment and granting the State’s motion, the court ruled Monday that the State Fair Commission is not responsible for indemnifying or defending the private company.

The 2-page order by Judge Theodore M. Sosin, Marion County Superior Court Two, is attached. As you will see from reading it, it likely will not be useable as any sort of precedent a state contract may not be unilaterally altered or amended via the signature of an agency head on an invoice containing a boilerplate indemnification clause on its back.

[More at 4:54 PM] Just found this March 12th John Tuohy story (IndyStar) in USA Today which includes:

The company claimed that the contract it signed with the state made the [state fair] commission liable for any injuries or damages after the stage was erected, said Robert MacGill, an attorney for Mid-America. The Greenfield company oversaw the construction of the stage by laborers, but the state was responsible from that point on, MacGill said Tuesday.

"We argued that the state has to defend whatever happened to the stage during its use or operation," MacGill said.

MacGill said that obligation was spelled out on the back of invoices that state officials signed when they paid their bills to Mid-America. [AG spokesman] Corbin agreed that the invoices were at the center of the dispute, but Sosin did not say why he ruled in favor of the state.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 13, 2014 03:50 PM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions | Stage Collapse