INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller met with victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg on Wednesday to discuss how funds will be paid out to assist victims of the Indiana State Fair tragedy.
Seven people awaiting a performance by the band Sugarland died following the collapse of a stage during high winds at the Indiana state fair on August 13. Five people died on the scene and two more died later the hospital. At least 40 additional people were reportedly injured during the collapse.
Zoeller administers the Indiana Tort Claim Fund from which victim compensation settlements will be paid. Zoeller and Feinberg, who previously served as victim compensation fund administrator after 9/11, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Virginia Tech shootings and other tragedies, discussed how the fund will be paid out to the maximum $5 million.
Zoeller and Feinberg discussed the possible outlines of a settlement-application process to ensure that victims of the August 13 disaster are treated equitably. The next step is for Zoeller's office to hire a respected claims-management firm to field the victims' calls and questions and to gather necessary information Feinberg and Zoeller will use.
"The state is not a private company and the Tort Claim Fund is not a private insurance policy; the state has a higher obligation than a private party," Zoeller said. "Our objective is focused on the victims of this tragedy. They will not be required to hire a lawyer if they don't wish to; they could apply for compensation directly through the claim managers who have expertise in treating victims in a professional, courteous manner."
Current Indiana law caps the amount of settlements that can be paid out of the fund to a total of $5 million per incident. Out of the limited funds available, priority will be placed on compensating families of victims who died and victims who were seriously injured.
Zoeller said that accepting a settlement offer would be optimal because, while a victim could instead decline it and choose to pursue litigation in court, a settlement with the state would provide a victim with the certainty of compensation and early resolution of the case while minimizing the costs of litigation that a protracted lawsuit would entail.
The details of the settlement protocol and application time frame are still being developed. Zoeller said that settlements will be distributed irrespective of liability and that the state does not admit liability by making settlement offers.
"We are expediting the process but must work through the necessary details," Zoeller said. "We are committed to implementing this settlement process with justice and compassion, relying upon the wisdom Mr. Feinberg brings from his previous experience compensating victims of 9/11 and other tragedies."
Feinberg is also advising the Indiana State Fair Commission on protocols for distribution of the private charitable donations made to the Indiana State Fair Remembrance Fund. Feinberg is providing his services to both agencies at no charge to the state or taxpayers.