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9 hurt circus performers may seek workers' compensation benefits

It seems unusual to talk about injured circus performers in terms of work injury benefits, but they have the same system of employment compensation for work injuries as anyone else. That's because each state, including Colorado, has a workers' compensation statutory framework of laws that requires such coverage for every employee. It's small comfort to the eight circus performers who were seriously injured after falling to the ground when the rigging holding them in the air collapsed.

But it is a comfort to them, nonetheless. In this case, they may have a claim for negligence or product liability against the parties who are responsible for the accident. If it is available, that additional right to recover will add another level of security to cushion the crushing circumstances they may now have to combat to survive. They were performers in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the world's oldest and most revered circus show.

The accident occurred in Rhode Island during an afternoon performance of the show that was filled with laughing and happy children. What they unexpectedly saw led many parents to remove their children, and not return. The eight women were from different countries and were held in the air by their hair, making the shape of a chandelier, with one woman hanging lower in the center of the depiction.

The rigging mechanism suddenly collapsed, sending them to the ground and then the rigging itself fell on them in one big crash. Only one of the performers regained consciousness immediately, but it is reported that they all did awake eventually. Another injured worker had been on the ground when it fell on him. They were taken by ambulances to Rhode Island Hospital.

In Colorado, the injured women would be entitled to workers' compensation benefits to assure that they will have all medical benefits and partial wages paid during the period of disability. They also may possibly have a third-party tort claim for various other damages, including pain and suffering. Whether such a claim would be successful is far from determined at this time, but the circumstances do allow for the making of it against any responsible third parties who are not the employer.

Source: The Boston Globe, "9 badly hurt in accident at Providence circus", Anne Steele, May 4, 2014

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