9/11 expert to aid Indiana in stage collapse claims

August 31, 2011

By Michael Puente and Associated Press

(AP/Charles Dharapak, File)
Kenneth Feinberg in 2009.

A nationally-recognized expert in victims compensation has been hired by the Indiana State Fair Commission to help distribute funds to victims of a stage collapse on August 13.

Kenneth Feinberg’s been part of some of the biggest victims’ compensation efforts: the 9/11 attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings and last year’s BP oil spill.

Feinberg will donate his services to oversee fair distribution of money collected after the collapse.
About $817,000 dollars in donations have been collected so far.

Indiana State Fair Commission chairman Andre Lacy says the point is to get victims compensated as quickly as possible.

“I can pledge we are going to try to get at least something to the victims as quickly as we can. We really care to do this as right and as best we can, and then to seek out the best resources that we can was our motive,” Lacy said during a Wednesday morning press conference in Indianapolis.

Seven people, including five fans, died when the stage collapsed. Among them was Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago.

About four dozen others were injured when strong winds blew down the stage shortly before the country band Sugarland was to begin its set.

At least five lawsuits have been filed, including one by the estate of Tammy Van Dam, 52, who died after the stage collapse. He was from the Indiana town of Wanatah, southeast of Valparaiso.

Lacy says whatever is paid out from donations will be remain separate from court claims.

“This is a refund, this is donations, this is quite separate and apart from anything that relates to court claims,” Lacy said. “There is an absolute Chinese wall between those two.”

About $263,000 has been donated so far to the State Fair Remembrance Fund. Another $554,000 in concert proceeds will be donated by the bands Maroon 5 and Train.

Lacy said it will be up to Feinberg to decide how to best distribute the funds. 

“I’m going to be relying on the eloquent experience that Mr. Feinberg has brought to 9/11, to the Virginia Tech shootings and the BP [oil spill],” Lacy said. “Ultimately we will be receiving his recommendation and it will be the Commission that will be making the decision.”

In addition to the donated funds, the State of Indiana announced plans Wednesday to pay victims a total of $5 million, the maximum allowed under Indiana law.

“We want to move to pay the full $5 million that the state’s law allows as soon as an equitable formula can be devised,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Wednesday. “My goal is to focus on the needs of victims and their families while minimizing the expense of lengthy and costly litigation. In light of the urgency for victims of the State Fair tragedy and the statutory limits on compensation, the advice of Mr. Feinberg, who has faced these circumstances before, will be invaluable in developing this claims process effectively.”

Lawyers have long criticized the state’s liability cap, saying it’s too low. But at today’s press conference, Lacy declined to say whether the Indiana State Fair Commission will ask the state for a waiver or increase the $5 million liability cap to compensate the victims.

One of the victims of the stage collapse, Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago, will be remembered at a memorial service Sept. 10 at the Chicago History Museum. Santiago, program manager at the Lesbian Community Care Project at the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago, is survived by her wife, Alisha Brennon, who was injured in the collapse.