Indiana appeals court upholds $5M liability cap in Ohio girl's state fair stage collapse case



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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the state's $5 million cap on liability damages Wednesday in a case brought by a 13-year-old Ohio girl who was hurt when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair.

A three-judge panel rejected arguments by Jordyn Polet of Cincinnati that the cap, known formally as the Indiana Tort Claims Act, violates the Indiana Constitution and that the girl was treated differently than other claimants who sued the state. Polet, who rejected the state's offer of $1,690, was the only claimant not to settle with the state.

"One of the main concerns the ITCA was intended to address was protection of the public treasury from a multitude of tort lawsuits," said the unanimous opinion written by Judge Melissa May. "The aggregate liability cap is a rational means to achieve the legitimate legislative goal of protecting the public treasury."

The 2011 stage collapse occurred when high winds blew down rigging before a concert by the country duo Sugarland. Seven people were killed and more than 100 were injured.

One of the teen's attorneys, Robert Peck, said before speaking to Polet and her family that he likely would appeal the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. He said the Court of Appeals found that Polet had a valid cause of action but also that the state had immunity from her lawsuit.

"I think that's a fundamental error," Peck said in a telephone interview.

The girl, who was 10 at the time of the collapse, sustained leg and ankle injuries and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, court documents state. Her sister and mother sustained more serious injuries and both accepted settlements. The $5 million paid to about 62 victims was supplemented by an additional $6 million for 59 victims approved by the General Assembly in 2012.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office defended the liability cap in the case.

"Unlike a private company being sued for damages, state government under sovereign immunity cannot be sued except under the limitations and deadlines the Legislature permits, since this is taxpayers' money and the taxpayers did not cause the loss," Zoeller said in a statement.

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