INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - The state has created a process by which victims of the Indiana State Fair accident can seek compensation from the state without filing lawsuits.
Families of the seven who died and victims who were injured in the Aug. 13 stage rigging collapse before a concert at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis are now asked to complete a new customized claim form, available online ( www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2849.htm ) and through a toll-free number, 1-800-760-4616, to seek monetary settlements from the state.
Victims and their families are asked to file their claims using the customized form no later than Nov. 1 so requests can be reviewed in an expedited manner. Though claimants legally have 270 days to file a tort claim notice with the state, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said funding will likely be exhausted before then.
"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.
The attorney general's office has hired an experienced claims-management firm, JWF Specialty Co. of Indianapolis, to handle the claims intake and process forms. By completing the claim form, victims can apply for payments from the Indiana Tort Claim Fund under an expedited process without necessarily having to hire an attorney or go to court.
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. By law the state of Indiana is limited to paying no more than $700,000 per individual or $5 million per incident to settle tort claims.
So far, 21 tort claims - notices that the filing party intends to file a lawsuit against the state - have been filed, listing 25 people as victims. The first tort claim was filed two days after the collapse. Since then, a steady stream of claims has been filed by or on behalf of victims from across Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
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, it said in a news release Monday. 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 protocol setting forth the classifications of payments that each group of victims will be paid will be announced soon. By law, the attorney general reviews claims and makes recommendations to the governor for his consent before any settlement payments are made on behalf of the state.
The Tort Claim Fund is separate from the privately donated money held in the Indiana State Fair Remembrance Fund, for which the Indiana State Fair Commission is developing a framework for distribution.
Victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg is consulting with the state and Fair Commission for both funds. Feinberg, who helped in similar efforts after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is donating his consultant services, the state said.
Two weeks ago, Feinberg talked about state compensation for the victims of the accident, saying: "That's not a great deal of money to distribute to everybody who might have a claim, so there is going to have to be some tough decisions made based on the reality of what's available."
A look at the current claims shows the challenge. Of the 25 victims listed in the tort claims, attorneys wrote in specfic damage amounts they are seeking in 12 of the cases. Those dollar amounts range from $25,000 to $700,000 - and that's the maximum the state will pay an individtual.
When you add up the total dollar amount for the 12 claims, it comes to more than $6.7 million - well over the $5 million cap.
A committee faces the challenge of deciding who gets what. In the end, many victims could find themselves short-changed. 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.
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