Indiana Aftermath

Two more concertgoers have died, several lawsuits have been filed and an Indiana judge has taken the step of ordering the preservation of the wreckage from the stage that collapsed at the Indiana State Fair Aug. 13.

The death toll rose to seven in the days following the disaster. Meagan Toothman of Cincinnati was removed from life support Aug. 22 after organ donor arrangements were made. Jenny Haskell, a Ball State student, died of her injuries Aug. 19.

The first lawsuits were filed within days and more are surely to come. The Indiana attorney general’s office told the Indianapolis Star it had been notified of at least three potential suits against the state at press time. An Indianapolis law firm also announced Aug. 23 that it had filed a class-action suit against the state, the Indiana State Fair Commission and companies that installed and manufactured the stage rigging.

Two initial suits seek at least $60 million from several defendants that were involved with the Sugarland show, including Live Nation, which reportedly promoted the concert and ticketed the show through Ticketmaster, and Dave Lucas’ Live 360 that booked music for the Indiana State Fair. Other defendants include Mid-America Sound Corp., which owns the stage that collapsed.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims,” Lucas told the Star, “but our company … had absolutely nothing to do with the (stage) roof. Zero. That’s all I can say.”

Live Nation Entertainment has asked Judge Thomas Alevizos for a change of venue in those cases from Marion County, where the accident occurred, to neighboring Hancock County. Live Nation didn’t specify a reason.

A spokeswoman for Live Nation wasn’t available to discuss the suits, and the company does not generally comment on pending litigation.

Alevizos did order evidence at the concert site, including the wrecked stage, be preserved as investigations into the collapse and the way it was handled continue. Such an order is relatively rare, and this one generated criticism between lawyers.

An attorney representing the State Fair Commission said the order wasn’t needed because engineering firm Thornton-Tomasette, hired to conduct an independent investigation, had already outlined how it would handle the probe.

But an attorney who filed the first lawsuits in the collapse argued that without the order, plaintiffs would have no recourse if the state was later found to have destroyed evidence. “For the wrongdoer to be in charge of the evidence of the wrongdoing is a manifest injustice,” attorney Kenneth Allen said.

Judge Alevizos rejected Allen’s motion to preserve emails, 911 calls and other such evidence, and called the attorney’s claim for $50 million, the maximum claim against the state under law, a “publicity stunt.”

Meanwhile, the lawyer also made the same accusation against Indianapolis law firm Cohen and Malad, which filed a class-action suit Aug. 22 on behalf of a witness to the collapse who was not physically injured. The suit claims she suffered “severe emotional trauma” from witnessing the disaster. Attorney Jeff Hammond told the Star the firm wants to include all victims of both physical injuries and “emotional stress.”

Legal observers said the class action is too broad and stands little chance of success. Allen slammed the filing in an email to the Star as a “publicity stunt” that is “clearly frivolous” and an attempt by Cohen and Malad to “fish” for clients.

In the aftermath of what was at least the fourth structure failure of the summer in North America, along with a deadly collapse in Europe, other fairs and outdoor concert producers are assessing their own best practices and standards. Some are calling for uniform, enforceable regulations.

“Every state has its own requirement, if they have requirements at all,” Jacob Worek, of Event Safety Consultants, told the New York Times. “There are no national standards right now.”

Another Planet Entertainment’s Sherry Wasserman addressed the question of aging trusses. “There definitely needs to be a discussion,” she told the Times. “Thirty-five years in the business, and all of a sudden there is a rash of failures. Airplanes can only be in the air so long before they get retired.”

Jam Productions’ Jerry Mickelson told the Times that “even a permanent structure in a tornado would get ripped to shreds. The point is that you are dealing with nature, and it’s more important to me that there is a good, solid evacuation plan in place that would protect the public from exactly what happened in Indiana.”

Producers and artists alike appear to be taking more precautions with outdoor concerts under the threat of inclement weather, and are dealing with unhappy fans for their trouble.

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard almost two weeks after the Indiana disaster, at least one festival was canceled and one very major outdoor concert was moved.

Kenny Chesney moved his Gillette Stadium concert near Boston up two days, from Aug. 28 to Aug. 26, because of the hurricane threat. On Chesney’s website, TMG/AEG Live’s Louis Messina said the decision was made in the interest of fan safety, noting it was a “difficult decision” but safety is “our first and foremost priority.”

Chesney added, “I want the last weekend of the ‘Goin’ Coastal’ Tour to be a great experience for everybody. But I also want it to be the safest experience for everyone.”

Some fans took to Chesney’s Facebook page to complain.

“How in the world do you expect fans like myself who rely on our day to day jobs to ask for a Friday off and find a babysitter?!?! I can’t afford that and now Stubhub says no refund!?! Enjoy the money for my tickets!!!” was one example. However, the majority of comments were supportive of the move.