Serious Personal Injury and Foreseeability
A tragedy has once again occurred at the Indiana State Fair. The canopy, or rigging, or roof (all terms bandied about to describe the structure) collapsed Saturday night killing five people. Christina Santiago, Glenn Goodrich, Nathan Byrd and Alina Bigjohny are gone. We have heard the pundits talking about the collapse. We have heard officials saying an investigation is underway. What we do not hear a lot about is the issue of foreseeability. No, this is not looking into a crystal ball to predict the future. This is the practice of learning from the past to make judgments about what is likely to happen in the future. With this in mind I offer a few insights.
Although Indiana is not in tornado alley, we do have our share of high speed wind events. In fact, we have such a good history of high wind events, we can predict, with confidence, that we will experience high wind events in August in Indianapolis. We rarely see tornados in August, so we can say with some certainty that we are not likely to see tornados in August in Indianapolis. But, we do see a lot of straight line winds. These winds are of high intensity over a very short period of time. These winds are observed to reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour for very short blasts. We never know where they might hit, but we do know that they are very often associated with the beginning of a storm front where the changes in air temperature can be great.
So, what is foreseeable? It is foreseeable that we will see high speed straight line winds in August in Indiana. We do not know where they will appear, but they are most likely to appear at the beginning of a storm front.
Now, what do we know about temporary structures? Well in the case of the structure that collapsed, we know that it is big enough, and heavy enough that if it collapses and lands on people, it will likely cause serious injury and wrongful death. We also know that the closer the people are to the structure, the more likely they are to be killed and injured, if the structure collapses. Thus, it just makes sense that the structure be designed and erected knowing it may be in the path of a high speed wind event, and if therefore, it must be erected so that it can withstand that possibility.
I suggest to you it was foreseeable that high winds would hit the structure and if it was not erected to withstand those winds, it will collapse and seriously injure or cause the wrongful death of the innocents. I hope that a complete and accurate statement of what happened comes to the fore. In the mean time, our sympathies go out to the victims and their families.