On August 16, 2011, two days after the tragic Indiana State Fair stage collapse, we called on the Indiana State Government to accept its share of responsibility for this tragedy, immediately set up a $5,000,000 damages fund for the victims, and introduce legislation repealing the unfair $5 million damages cap that applies under Indiana law. We are happy to note that the Indiana State Government is showing signs that it will step up and do the right thing.
Last week Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced that the State intends to pay $5 million to the victims of the State Fair tragedy, representing the maximum amount allowed for the conduct of public entities under Indiana's liability law. Additionally, at least some members of the Indiana legislature are noticing that $5 million is not nearly enough to compensate the families of the seven people who died and the other 40 individuals that were injured in the collapse.
As state Representative Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) points out, the math doesn't add up. Liability of government entities under Indiana law is capped at $700,000 per victim. If the families of the seven people who wrongfully died each received this amount, only $100,000 would be left for the other 40 that were injured. Any way you cut it, $5,000,000 is not nearly enough.
DeLaney intends to introduce a bill that would allow the victims to collect more than the State's $5 million cap. As noted by an article in the Indianapolis Star, this may be done by creating a special one-time liability cap (similar to what was done in Minnesota when the 35W bridge collapsed a few years ago, killing 13 and injuring 100 others) or perhaps raising the current overall liability cap.
While we commend Indiana for stepping up and creating the $5 million fund, we agree that the limited funds are not enough to compensate the victims for this tragic accident. Moreover, creating a special one-time cap for this incident might help compensate the more than four dozen injured by the collapse, but it would not serve justice if a horrific accident were to occur in the future. It is unfair to simply make a one time exception to an unfair law because it has captured the media's attention. Instead, as we in our August 16, 2011 blog, the State needs to address the problem of unfair damages caps by repealing the liability limits and doing so in such a way that the State Fair victims would be able to recover retroactively.