- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The country duo Sugarland on Tuesday said it is devastated that people “want to point fingers and try to sensationalize” an Aug. 13 stage collapse that killed seven people and injured 58 before the band’s show at the Indiana State Fair.

Sugarland manager Gail Gellman issued a statement to the Associated Press saying the duo — Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush — were upset that anyone might think they were not concerned about their fans.

“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,” the statement read.

The band issued the statement after its attorneys responded to a lawsuit by saying that fans who were killed or injured when stage rigging and sound equipment collapsed failed to take steps to ensure their own safety and are at least in part to blame for their injuries.

The attorneys’ statement, part of a Feb. 16 response to a civil suit filed by survivors and families of some of those killed, came in sharp contrast to earlier statements by Miss Nettles and appeared to be an attempt to cast blame elsewhere.

Calling the powerful winds that toppled the stage on Aug. 13 an “act of God,” Sugarland’s attorneys said fair officials and Mid-America Sound Corp. were responsible for the stage setup and that the fans voluntarily assumed risk by attending the show.

“Some or all of the plaintiffs’ claimed injuries resulted from their own fault,” according to the band’s response.

Sugarland attorney James H. Milstone did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

Seven people died and 58 were injured in the crush beneath the metal rigging and concert sound equipment.

Miss Nettles told the Associated Press in a statement issued through her manager two days after the collapse that she was “moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured.”

Attorneys representing at least 20 law firms across Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky filed the complaint Nov. 22 in Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis alleging breach of reasonable care to the victims. The suit names as plaintiffs dozens of people injured and the families of some of those killed, and it seeks unspecified damages from Sugarland, producers, stage riggers and others associated with the show.

Jeff Stesiak, a South Bend lawyer involved in the suit, said the band’s response was strange given the circumstances of the fans’ injuries.

“It’s unusual to put the blame on victims. The concert wasn’t canceled, and they weren’t told to leave. I can’t imagine what the victims did to be at fault,” Mr. Stesiak said Tuesday. “They had a duty to warn fans. An open and obvious danger is more like walking along a road and seeing a downed power line and walking over it anyway. The storm wasn’t like that.”

Lawyers for the band are seeking a jury trial.

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