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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ind. Decisions - "State may still have financial responsibility in State Fair stage collapse, COA rules"

Yesterday's 2-1 Court of Appeals opinion in In re: Indiana State Fair Litigation: Polet, et al. v. Mid-America Sound, et. al. (ILB summary here) is the subject of several stories today.

The AP reported in a brief story:

The state may be legally liable for responsible for some legal damages faced by a company that provided the rigging for a stage that collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The decision said Marion County Superior Court Judge Theodore Sosin failed to articulate why he had granted summary judgment to the Indiana State Fair Commission in March 2014 after Mid-America Sound Corp. argued that the state was financially responsible by contract for the cost of its defense and any judgments against it.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Monday's ruling means the state could be liable for an undetermined amount, inconsistent with the financial limits specified in the Tort Claims Act that limits the state's payout. Zoeller said he plans to appeal the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. [ILB: Here is the AG's news release.]

"Our position is, Indiana law is clear that the state cannot indemnify a private party, nor was there any agreement here to do so, and we will continue to fight the stage rigging contractor's attempt to shift its legal responsibility for the State Fair tragedy onto the public," he said in a statement.

Jill Disis of the Indianapolis Star reports:
When a stage collapsed in 2011 at the Indiana State Fair, the state paid out $11 million to 56 injured victims and the estates of the seven people who were killed.

But the state's financial liability for the tragedy might be far from finished, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The 2-1 opinion reverses a lower court ruling that said the state could be excused from damage claims against a sound company being sued for the collapse. The case's latest turn in court could place the determination of whether the state has additional financial responsibility in the hands of a Marion County jury.

Attorneys for Mid-America Sound Corp., which supplied the stage materials for the fatal Aug. 13, 2011, production, argued that the state was obligated to help pay liability costs based on the terms of its contract with the company.

The state argued that expectation was unfair, and claimed state officials never willingly entered such an agreement with Mid-America Sound.

In March 2014, Marion Superior Judge Theodore Sosin agreed with the State Fair Commission, ruling that Mid-America Sound could not shift its liability to the state.

But the appeals court decision overturns that ruling, saying that Mid-America Sound can use its indeminification argument in trial court. That decision potentially holds the state accountable for financial liabilities beyond what it has already paid. * * *

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement the state would appeal the latest ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. It has 30 days to file a petition to do so.

"My office put the victims first by fully paying out the state's maximum $5 million liability," Zoeller said. "As the guardian of tax dollars, the state is adamant that it will not and cannot assume the current and future legal bills of this private company for the company's conduct." * * *

The state was recently the subject of another lawsuit heard before the Indiana Court of Appeals. In that case, attorneys for the only victim to not accept settlement money from the state asked the court to throw out the law that limites the amount of damages the state can give out after a tragedy. In January, the court upheld the $5 million cap as constitutional.

This Jan. 20, 2015 ILB post discusses that Jan., 2015 opinion, J.P. et al. v. Mid American Sound, et al.

In addition, the ILB has a special category, "Stage Collapse," listing all ILB posts on this topic. Of particular interest in the current case is this ILB post from August 9, 2012, concerning the status of invoices in the state contracting sysytem/

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 31, 2015 09:31 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions | Stage Collapse