Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Monday that 64 of 65 claimants offered settlements in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse have accepted the offers. Checks will be issued by year-end, the AG’s office said, paying out the entire $5 million in tort claim funds the state has available by law.
"Deciding on compensation for the victims of the State Fair tragedy is one of the most difficult duties the Indiana Attorney General's Office has ever undertaken. From the start we knew that no matter how we divided the $5 million available, it could never replace the seven lives lost nor erase the pain of the injured and grieving. We did all that was possible to treat victims equitably and to assist them with their medical and financial needs within the amount the law allows," Zoeller said.
Defending the state's Tort Claim Fund, which is made up of tax dollars, from claims and potential lawsuits is one of the duties of the attorney general's office. After the deadly stage rigging collapse Aug. 13 at the Indiana State Fair, Zoeller announced that he would make available the $5 million in tort claim funds without regard to liability.
Working with nationally known expert Kenneth Feinberg, who administered victim compensation programs after 9/11 and the BP oil spill, Zoeller's office designed a victim-centered program where victims could submit tort claims to the state and receive settlement payments on an expedited basis, even if they did not hire an attorney.
A total of 114 individual claimants – including the representatives of the seven deceased – filed a total 101 claims and used a customized State Fair claim form the AG’s office developed. The state also retained claims management firm JWF Specialty Company to receive and review the claims and follow up with claimants to obtain additional medical documentation.
Under the compensation protocol Feinberg helped design, the estates of the seven deceased victims were guaranteed settlements of at least $300,000 each. Another 58 claimants who were most seriously injured and met at least one other protocol criteria were offered payments equal to approximately 65 percent of their medical and hospital bills submitted to date. Since that amount will exhaust the rest of the $5 million the sate has available, claimants with non-physical injuries did not receive settlement offers under the protocol.
On Dec.6, the state sent offer notices to 65 eligible claimants or their representatives requesting a prompt reply. Although claimants had the legal right to decline the offers, all but one accepted, including the estates of all seven deceased victims. The remaining $1,691 that one claimant's attorney declined was redistributed among the other 64 claimants and their offers were recalculated. In accepting offers, claimants sign settlement documents releasing the state of Indiana from future liability. That does not prevent claimants from pursuing separate legal actions against other private entities over the stage rigging collapse.