Sugarland’s response to a negligence suit filed against them following the fatal collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair last summer have caused an internet furor today.
According to documents obtained by local Indiana news station WRTV, the band (or more accurately, their legal team) placed responsibility for the seven deaths and more than 50 injuries on “gust of wind of unprecedented intensity” and “a true accident, or act of God.”
The civil suit claims that the concert’s promoters and the companies responsible for building the stage allowed it become overloaded, failed to take note of the dangerous weather conditions, and then failed to promptly and properly evacuate the venue once the 60 to 70 mph winds became dangerous. The band responded that “they had nothing to with the construction of the venue” or therefore its safety.
The statement that has garnered the band the most headlines today, however, is their claim that “some or all of the plaintiffs failed to exercise due care for their own safety” and further that “some or all of the plaintiffs knowingly and voluntarily assumed and/or incurred the risk of injury to themselves.”
South Bend attorney Jeff Stesiak, who is involved in the suit responded (via the Chicago Tribune) responded: “It’s unusual to put the blame on victims. The concert wasn’t canceled and they weren’t told to leave. I can’t imagine what the victims did to be at fault,” Stesiak said Tuesday. “They had a duty to warn fans. An open and obvious danger is more like walking along a road and seeing a downed power line and walking over it anyway. The storm wasn’t like that.”
This afternoon, the band’s manager Gail Gellman attempted to clarify the band’s earlier statement, saying: “Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster. The single most important thing to Sugarland are their fans. Their support and love over the past nine years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them.”
The main issue at stake is whether Sugarland was asked to delay the show, and whether they subsequently complied or failed to do so. A state fair official has said in a deposition that the band was approached twice about the fair’s desire to delay the show, and the band wanted to go on. But Sugarland’s tour manager reportedly told investigators that there was no such discussion.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, with unspecified damages.