Stage Collapse Spurs Questions

April 29, 2015 / Personal Injury

Dozens of high school kids and parents panicked on April 23, 2015, when part of a stage collapsed during a spirited musical, plunging Westfield High School performers into the orchestra pit. School Superintendent Mark Keen estimated the drop to be 12 feet to a concrete floor below.

During the finale of the school’s annual “American Pie” concert, which each year features music from one decade, a large group of singing, dancing students came from the wings onto a platform used to extend the stage area over the pit, a procedure used many times in the past without incident.

This time, however, due to causes that are still under investigation, the flooring gave way. More than a dozen students were injured, with ten being transported to the hospital.

Fortunately, there were no casualties and all have now returned home.

A number of authorities are looking into the situation, including the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Indiana State Police, the City of Westfield, and, of course, school district personnel.

It Wasn’t an Isolated Incident

The incident has brought back memories of the tragic stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, when seven people were killed and nearly 100 injured. That collapse was caused by high winds. The tragedy resulted in new regulations for temporary, outdoor staging, but John Erickson, a spokesman for Indiana’s Department of Homeland Security, told the Christian Science Monitor that those rules don’t apply to the permanent, indoor stages typically found in schools. What’s more, he said, it’s not clear whether construction plans have to be filed for school stages or whether they must pass inspections.

School Safety & Preventing Injuries

Dr. Edward Dragan, an expert on school safety, has written about school liability for torts such as injury, wrongful death, sexual harassment, and bullying. Dragan quotes some interesting findings from the National Safe Kids Campaign (NSKC):

  • School-aged children are 9 times more likely to sustain an unintentional injury than to be the victim of intentional injury while at school.
  • Children under the age of 15 sustain more than 14 million unintentional injuries each year, with 10 to 25 percent occurring in and around schools.
  • 1 in 14 students suffers a medically attended or temporarily disabling injury at school.

Dragan points out that while government immunity generally protects school districts, there are exceptions which can leave them vulnerable. He suggests several questions to ask after a school injury:

  • Did the school have a duty to protect the student? (Duty to protect includes maintenance of equipment and facilities.)
  • What was the reasonable standard of care to apply under the circumstances, and did the school apply that reasonable standard of care?
  • If there was a breach of that reasonable standard, was it a significant factor in causing a student’s injury?
  • Did the victim contribute to the injury through his or her own negligence?
  • Was there an actual injury that can be substantiated?

Preventing Injury in Indiana Schools

Indiana authorities are seeking answers to questions about the Westfield stage collapse so that they can avoid another such school scare. One lesson to be learned here is that school athletes aren’t the only ones who can be injured while at play.

If your child is injured on a school bus, in the classroom, in a sports event or another school-related activity, the legal issues can be thorny. Call Stephenson Rife for more information about liability for school injuries. With their experience in personal litigation dating from 1981, they have been proven advocates for hundreds of Indiana families.

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