Reporting Vince Gerasole
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Attorneys for country music superstars Sugarland suggested in a recent court filing that fans who were killed or hurt when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair last year were partly to blame for their injuries.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, one survivor said she now feels betrayed by the band she once loved.
Seven people were killed and 58 were injured when gale force winds toppled Sugarland’s stage in an instant last year at the Indiana State Fair.
In a filing regarding one of the lawsuits filed after the stage collapse, a Sugarland attorney called the accident an “act of God” and said fans voluntarily assumed risk by attending the show.
Devout fan Tammy Vandam was among those killed and her life partner Beth Urschel was among those injured in the collapse.
“I looked up and I saw the stage in motion, and at that point it’s like, where do you go?” Urschel said. “I mean, there’s that indecision. You’re facing death. Where do you go? You couldn’t outrun the stage, because it’s too big. And, so, I just stood there and I prayed.”
Although announcements had told fans the show would go on, in a filed response to another victim’s civil suit, Sugarland’s attorney wrote, “Some or all of the plaintiff’s claimed injuries resulted from their own fault.”
“I just feel really betrayed by them,” Urschel said. “You love them, you think you know them, and then they turn around and say it’s your fault that you stayed. How can they do that when we didn’t have the information that they had? They had people asking them to postpone it and they didn’t.”
The statement from the band’s attorney convinced Urschel’s lawyer to name the band specifically in Urschel’s lawsuit, saying Sugarland insisted on performing, in spite of weather reports, so it could meet a tour date the following day.
“Sugarland made this decision primarily for their own convenience,” attorney Kenneth J. Allen said.
Independent injury attorney Matt Belcher said Sugarland’s statement about the injured victims is “a terrible defense of the case.”
Belcher said money is the underlying reason for the unfortunate words.
“In this instance, it appears to me that the attorney is more concerned about the liability exposure of the insurance carrier for Sugarland, rather than the complete package of what’s best for the Sugarland public relations image,” Belcher said.
At US 99.5 Radio DJ Drew Walker pointed out Sugarland’s performers originally expressed their concerned for the dead and injured after the stage collapse.
“For Sugarland, and for many of the country acts, fans are number one. They’re why you do what you do,” Walker said.
In a statement, Sugarland’s manager said of their fans: “their support and love … has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them.”
But Urschel said the band’s statement, “probably gets me a little bit more angry. It’s sort of an oxymoron. You can’t say you love your fans, and then when something happens at one of their venues, they blame you. That’s sort of two-faced, don’t you think?”
Urschel said she has come forward to speak for all of the people who were injured that day. She said she feels that’s her duty.