Stage Collapse Incidents: The Show Must Go On But At Whose Expense?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on October 11th, 2011
You go to a concert to hear music and probably don’t think much about the potential dangers, yet the accidents, injuries and deaths are real.
In August, seven people were killed and another 45 were injured when high winds from a strong approaching storm caused heavy overhead stage lights and speaker systems to collapse onto a waiting crowd at a Sugarland concert at the Indiana Fair, according to a story in The New York Times.
In a separate August incident in eastern Belgium, five people were killed and more than 70 were injured when a stage collapsed at an outdoor music festival during a storm, according to a story in The Guardian newspaper.
A Philadelphia concert in February 2010 left a female concert-goer seriously injured when a member of the band, Fishbone, allegedly dove from the stage into the crowd, breaking the woman’s skull and collarbone, according to an Associated Press story.
In August, 2009, one concert-goer died and about 75 other people were injured during a stage collapse at a music festival in Alberta, Canada, according to a story in The Guardian. The collapse occurred during a storm.
And in July, 2009, one person was killed and 52 others were injured when a stage tent collapsed during a storm at a popular music festival in Slovakia, according to a story in The Guardian.
In the Philadelphia case, a court recently upheld the victim’s negligence lawsuit that she had filed against the band member. The case was set for trial later this month after a judge ruled that the band member had participated in diving from the stage previously and injured another concert-goer in the past.
In the recent Indiana Fair disaster, where seven people were killed, many legal issues are being raised by the case.
First, Indiana has a $5 million liability damage cap, which means that that’s the maximum amount of money available for claims by all victims of that disaster. For some victims who are severely injured, who will need lifelong medical care, that won’t be sufficient. The case is highlighting the injustice of this arbitrary liability cap. Such liability caps are being enacted in more states across the nation, which is harming victims and their families.
The Indiana State Fair board has hired a risk assessment company to look into why the stage collapsed and to help prevent future catastrophes, according to The Indianapolis Star newspaper.
So far, liability questions revolve around whether concert-goers were given adequate information about the approaching storms and their powerful winds of up to 77 mph, according to another story in The Indianapolis Star. Questions are being raised about what could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
“Some, including Gov. Mitch Daniels, blamed the horrific collapse on a cruel and random act of Mother Nature — a sudden, powerful wind gust,” the paper reported. “I’m not clear,” Daniels told the Star, “how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind.”
“But others questioned whether part of the problem was man-made — and questioned why State Fair officials and State Police didn’t take ominous weather warnings more seriously and specifically order an evacuation before the storm hit,” the paper reported.
One Indiana state representative, who is also an attorney, said last month that he will introduce legislation that will allow victims of the Indiana Fair stage collapse to collect more in damages than permitted by the $5 million state cap due to the severity of their injuries and the inadequacy of the coverage.
“As an elected official of this state, I am literally saddened by what happened and by the inadequate current limit on payments,” state Rep. Ed DeLaney told the Star. “This is a place where we actively invited people to come, we chose not to regulate, and then we chose not to shut (the concert) down. Our role is so deep that we need to take care of our people.”
An attorney for one of the victims has filed a federal lawsuit to force the state to remove the cap on damages in the case.
Such arrangements have been made before in other large-scale disasters, according to the Star. “In Minnesota, after the 2007 bridge collapse that killed 13 and injured more than 100 others, the Legislature waived its existing liability cap of $1 million per occurrence. In all, the state ended up paying out a total of $38 million to victims.”
So what does this all mean? If you go to a concert, do you give up your rights to safety ?
No, but it’s complicated.
One problem is that there are no uniform laws for portable stages across the nation. That means that they can be erected temporarily without always having a responsible agency or person watching over their shoulders to ensure that the work is done properly.
That’s a recipe for potential disaster.
Multiple investigations into what went wrong at the Indiana State Fair continue and no specific causes of the disaster have been determined.
One interesting recent development centers around an emergency response plan drafted for the annual Indiana State Fair last year, according to an Associated Press story. “The 71-page emergency plan … describes more than a dozen situations, including severe weather, shootings and fires, that would prompt fair officials to activate their emergency protocols. But the exact conditions that would require the need for an evacuation are not clearly defined in the document, which leaves the final decision on evacuations up to fair officials.”
In this case, that was part of the problem, and it will certainly be reviewed carefully as the investigations continue.
In the meantime, though, it’s good to remember that tragedy can strike anywhere and the lives of innocent people can be altered in an instant.
This is a graphic case of how liability caps are arbitrary and hurtful to victims and their families.
And it’s also a reminder that your best chance of securing your rights if you are severely injured in an accident happens only if you have competent, professional, compassionate and skilled legal help from qualified attorneys who will uncover every detail in pursuit of justice for you and your family.
That’s what you will get from MyPhillyLawyer if you are ever injured and seek our legal representation.
When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.