It is apparent that tragedies occur when corrupt individuals disregard the safety of others, but what if structure failures happen even when everyone did everything right? In Baum Hedlund’s decades of experience as lawyers in this field, we have never seen a case where no one was at fault when someone is injured or killed by a building collapse. Nor, is this kind of blatant disregard for the public’s safety a notion of the past. These kinds of careless decisions have persisted despite many increased regulations over the years.
Take, for example, the Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse. At first glance, it seems as though a powerful storm that rolled in on August 13th, 2011, just before a large concert headlined by the band Sugarland, was the only factor to blame for the ensuing structure failures. But a thorough examination into the surrounding events tells a very different story.
Throughout the day, the National Weather Service issued warnings for the storm and the Director of the Indiana State Fair Commission even called a meeting to discuss delaying or cancelling the show in order to protect their guests. After that meeting, the Director chose to let the band, Sugarland, decide if they wanted to continue with the show, figuring that the band should have the final say on the situation, since their contract had a provision that their shows could only be cancelled due to weather and with the band’s approval. Thirty minutes later a state police captain informed the Director that she should cancel the show and evacuate the crowd. The Director had an announcer state that a storm was approaching, but that the show would go on. After hearing the announcement, the police captain told the Director again that the show needed to be called off and the area evacuated. As the Director and police chief were headed to the stage to make a second announcement, the entire stage structure collapsed forward into the crowd, killing seven and injuring 58.
An investigation into the tragedy found that multiple components in the structure were insufficient to resist winds over 43 mph, even though construction standards required the structure to withstand winds up to 68 mph. In addition to this violation of the building code, there were a number of oversights on every level regarding the design, construction and inspection of the structure before allowing its use at the Fair. That and the lack of emergency preparedness protocols among the Indiana State Fair officials, was a recipe for disaster. What initially seemed like an unavoidable structure collapse brought on by a force of nature was actually precipitated by a series of mistakes, standing like dominoes, waiting for the first one to fall.