by Adam Gold
"The single most important thing to Sugarland are their fans,” the band’s manager Gail Gellman tells the Associated Press.
But judging by the response of the band’s legal team to a civil suit filed on behalf of fans injured in last summer's Indiana State Fair tragedy — in which high winds toppled an inadequately rigged outdoor stage, killing seven and injuring dozens more — when it comes to attending their concerts, Sugarland’s policy is essentially Enter at your own risk.
That’s right, the heartfelt tribute concerts have ceased, and according to AP, the blame game of ascribing legal liability is in full-swing, with Sugarland’s lawyers saying that those harmed in the collapse — an “act of God” that occurred moments before the band was to hit the stage — “failed to exercise due care for their own safety,” and thus suffered injuries that “resulted from their own fault.”
Now I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my day, and I’ve picked up a tactic or two when exercising due care for my own safety — don’t crowd surf, don’t get caught in a mosh, don’t wear flip-flops, ever, don’t take too many drugs and stay hydrated if you do take too many drugs, etc. But never have I considered wearing a hard hat to protect myself from falling scaffolding and lighting trusses.
Understandably, the insensitive assertions of Sugarland’s attorneys have left blamed victims and their families — not to mention general fans and observers — outraged.
Seeking to distance the band from the blowback, Sugarland's management has gone into damage-control mode, releasing a statement. An excerpt:
Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster. … The single most important thing to Sugarland are their fans. Their support and love over the past nine years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them.
But the band’s efforts to absolve themselves of blame might make it a little easy for people to think otherwise.
In protecting the interests of their clients, Sugarland’s lawyers argue that the pre-collapse conditions at the Indianapolis State Fair presented an “open and obvious danger” to concert attendees. But, as AP reports, testimony documented in a lawsuit against the company that erected the stage suggests that the band itself fell short in heeding warnings of hazardous weather conditions, saying that they allegedly bucked suggestions to delay the start of the ill-fated Indianapolis concert, as to not disrupt both its travel schedule and singer Jennifer Nettles’ vocal warm-up regimen.
Regardless, the bands’ lawyers cite an Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation in claiming that liability lies on the shoulders of the Indiana State Fair, Mid-America Sound Corp. — the company that owned the stage — and the stagehands union, not Sugarland.
The state of Indiana has already paid out the $5 million to victims and their families — the maximum amount allowed under state law. And since that is a mere drop in the bucket in covering the widespread, longterm medical expenses of many of the collapse’s victims, the ostensibly deep-pocket band is inevitably under legal scrutiny.