Friday, June 22, 2012

Whose Interests Is Zoeller Representing In Stage Collapse Case?

The Indiana General Assembly approved $6 million in additional state funds to pay out to the victims of last summer's Indiana State Fair stage collapse during a Sugarland concert that left seven persons dead and about 60 other injured, some suffering serious and permanent injuries. Under Indiana's Tort Claim Act, the state's liability is capped at $5 million. The Star is reporting today that Attorney General Greg Zoeller is conditioning the payout of the additional state funds to the victims on their agreeing to release two other potentially liable parties, which have agreed to pay a combined $7.2 million in compensation to the victims.

The two companies contributing the $7.2 million are Mid-America Sound Corp. and James Thomas Engineering -- which were named as defendants in lawsuits stemming from the collapse.
All claimants who filed tort claims are allowed to apply for the supplemental funds, but to receive funds, they would need to release the two companies from further legal action, Zoeller said.
Victims can start applying next week. The funds would be paid out at the end of the year as provided under state law.
Am I missing a part of the legislature's $6 million appropriation? Did the law say that the victims couldn't receive that money until they agreed to settle their claims with these two particular parties. And why is Zoeller limiting this demand for the benefit of only these two parties? I find myself sympathizing with one of the victim's attorneys on this, who had this to say:

Attorney Kenneth J. Allen says Zoeller's plan seems like a "payoff" to protect the companies. Allen represents the families of three people who died in the stage collapse last August and others who were injured. He praised lawmakers for approving the additional $6 million this year.
I'm not familiar with all of the victims' claims, but the potential liability given the large number of victims is quite substantial given that there are seven dead people and 60 others claiming injuries. The combined $13.2 million that Zoeller is attempting to broker may seem like a lot of money, but when you divide that among a large class of plaintiffs, it's not a whole lot of money. State Rep. Ed DeLaney is also questioning Zoeller's move according to WTHR:

State Representative Ed Delaney credits Zoeller's creativity, but says this is not what lawmakers had in mind.
"No," he said emphatically.
Delaney pushed lawmakers to approve more money to cover the state's liability alone, but got just $6 million.
"That's not what this is, a public-private partnership," DeLaney told 13 Investigates. "This is an after the fact attempt to deal with a disaster and it's not ultimately the function of the state to protect private companies," he said, taking issue with the idea . . .
"We have a constitutional provision that says basically we're not suppose to settle individual cases and we seem to be dangerously close to doing that, don't we?" questioned DeLaney . . .

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