Expert to help Ind. fair with stage collapse funds

Indiana officials turned Wednesday to the man who oversaw victims compensation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill for help deciding who will receive money donated to help victims of a deadly stage collapse at the state fair.

Indiana State Fair Commission Chairman Andre Lacy said at a news conference that victims compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg is donating his services for the effort to distribute the money "as soon as we can."

Feinberg will help the commission develop a plan for distributing the money, including determining who's eligible and a claims process.

Seven people died and at least four dozen were injured Aug. 13 after high winds toppled the stage scaffolding onto a crowd awaiting a performance by the country band Sugarland at the Indiana State Fair.

About $263,000 has been donated so far to the State Fair Remembrance Fund, which was created two days after the stage collapse. That does not include about $554,000 in concert proceeds donated by the bands Maroon 5 and Train.

Donations ranged from $124 raised by a two girls at a Speedway lemonade stand to $65,000 donated by Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon and his team, said Brian Payne, chief executive of the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

While the foundation will continue to accept donations for the victims, the money will be paid out through a special state fair relief fund that Gov. Mitch Daniels authorized by executive order, Lacy said.

Payments handled this way should be distributed more quickly because the state doesn't face the same regulatory restrictions as the foundation, Payne said.

Feinberg also will help the Indiana attorney general's office devise a system for resolving legal claims resulting from the collapse, officials said.

Indiana law caps damages that can be recovered in lawsuits against the state to $700,000 per person or $5 million total per incident.

"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. My goal is to focus on the needs of victims and their families while minimizing the expense of lengthy and costly litigation," Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a news release.

Victims who received benefits from the 9/11 fund and the BP spill fund had to sign waivers promising not to sue, but Lacy said the State Fair Relief Fund was completely separate from any legal compensation, and its sole purpose was to get charitable donations to the victims.

"We really care to do this as best and as right as we can," he said.

Lacy did not answer when a reporter asked whether state officials had considered waiving the state's $5 million liability cap.