Claims process quickened for Indiana State Fair victims

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 20, 2011


INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Monday that the claims process will be expedited for victims of the State Fair stage collapse.

The Aug. 13 collapse occurred in between live performances by singer Sara Bareilles and country band Sugarland. The above-stage fly system was hit by a high-velocity wind gust. Seven people died and dozens were injured.

According to Zoeller's office, the families of those who died and those individuals who were injured are asked to complete a new customized claim form to seek monetary settlements from the state. The forms are available online and through a toll-free number.

By completing the claim form, victims can apply for payments from the Indiana Tort Claim Fund under an expedited process established by the Attorney General's Office.

Created by law, the Tort Claim Fund is made up of public dollars and exists so that individuals can receive settlement payments from the state without necessarily having to hire an attorney or go to court.

"Our focus and our priority will be on compensating the families of those who died and those who were injured in the State Fair tragedy so that they are treated equitably," Zoeller said in a statement.

The Attorney General's Office said it has hired an experienced claims-management firm, JWF Specialty Co. of Indianapolis, to handle the claims intake and process forms.

Claimants legally have 270 days to file a tort claim notice with the state; however, the Attorney General's Office is informally requesting claimants file the customized forms by Nov. 1 to expedite financial assistance to victims and families of victims who choose to participate.

Valid claims can be filed after Nov. 1, but funding will likely be exhausted and not available to settle those claims after that date, the Attorney General's Office said.

Zoeller noted that this process is for the state's Tort Claim Fund only, not for private charitable donations.

Before the customized form was set up, the attorney general said 21 claimants already had filed tort notices with the state using the regular process. A tort notice is a standard legal notice that must be filed with the state before an individual can bring any lawsuit against it.

Those earlier claimants are asked to also complete the customized form and provide any requested information they had not included previously, Zoeller said.

The Attorney General's Office said it developed the form with the help of Kenneth Feinberg, the administrator of victim compensation funds after 9/11 and the BP oil spill. Feinberg agreed to consult with Zoeller's office on paying claims associated with the tragedy.

Feinberg and the Attorney General's Office will review the claims and recommend distribution of settlement payments out of the Tort Claim Fund according to a new protocol Feinberg is developing, Zoeller explained.

That protocol, setting forth the classifications of payments that each group of victims will be paid, will be announced soon, he said.

By law, Indiana is limited to paying no more than $700,000 per individual or $5 million per incident to settle tort claims. In providing settlement payments on an expedited basis up to the total $5 million limit for the overall incident, the state does not admit liability. Claimants who choose not to accept a settlement offer have the legal right to pursue a lawsuit against the state, but the individual and per-incident limits on liability still apply, the attorney general explained.

Zoeller's office said the Indiana State Fair Commission is developing a framework for distributing private charitable donations made to the Indiana State Fair Relief Fund to assist victims. Feinberg also is advising the commission on protocols for eligibility and payment amounts from the relief fund.

Since payments from that private fund will be charitable gifts, they will utilize a separate process that will be announced at a later date.

The customized claim form, for state tort claim compensation only, can be downloaded at the attorney general's website.

It also can be obtained by calling the toll-free claim-intake line at 1-800-760-4616.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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