The news in our area is filled with tragedy this week: there is continuing national coverage (as well as YouTube videos) of the outdoor stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair last Saturday evening and there is local coverage of the tragic Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America plant explosion this morning in Hersher, Illinois.
At Work and At Play, Dangerous Conditions Result in Serious Injuries This Week
Latest reports have 5 workers hurt, with 2 workers seriously injured, in the blast that happened today while these folk were on the job in the NE Illinois gas works. All have been hospitalized and their current conditions are unknown.
News reports have five people dead as the result of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse with many of the crowd injured as a result of the 3-story stage falling to the ground, by some reports because of a sudden gust of wind. A doctor on the scene at the time of the tragedy gave his own personal account of the event, describing the stage as falling down “in slow motion” and that what he saw that day was “unbelievable.”
Meanwhile, USA Today is reporting that no state agency appears to have had responsibility for insuring that the Indiana State Fair facilities were safe for the people attending — it seems that not only did no agency take responsiblity for that duty, according to USA Today’s coverage, it may well be that no state agency had been given the legal duty to do so.
Legal Responsibility for Personal Injury Under State and Federal Law
Both federal law as well as state law protects workers on the job and people who attend popular events, like a concert during a state fair. Workers’ compensation laws have been enacted in Indiana and Illinois to insure that workers hurt on the job are protected, and federal laws are also on the books to insure workplace safety. The gas plant in Illinois will have state workers’ compensation claims filed by the injured victims to face was well as federal agency investigations into why that explosion occurred. If tragedy hits and one of the blast victims dies, then wrongful death claims under Illinois law can be pursued.
However, traditionally workers have been better protected on the books that concertgoers, especially to a state event. Governments are usually protected by something called “governmental immunity” under state and federal law, which means that state agencies cannot be sued for personal injury claims unless the state legislature allows it. Additionally, there are defenses in the law for “Acts of God,” where mysterious winds or other natural events that cannot be predicted nor controlled will bar holding any party legally responsible.
In the Indiana State Fair matter, things are sticky right now. Were the high winds an Act of God? Will sovereign immunity claims bar any wrongful death claims by the decedents’ loved ones or estates? Will the manufacturers, the concert promoters, the contractors who assembled the stage itself be liable for damages? It’s not clear today, but questions are being asked – not just by personal injury lawyers but by reporters at Time Magazine and Rolling Stone.