Legal Experts: Colorado Shooting Lawsuits Likely to Fail

Families of victims and survivors of the deadly shooting at the Dark Knight Rises opening movie who might want to sue the film studio Warner Bros or other companies such as AMC theaters, but experts say that history shows these lawsuits don't tend to get very far because it's tough to prove a liability. The reason that such lawsuits usually fall flat is because companies are rarely held liable for "intentional crimes of non-employees" and the ruling in Brown v. EMA also strengthens First Amendment protections for works such as movies and video games, according to legal experts.

The main reason, legal experts said, is that companies are rarely held liable for the intentional crimes of non-employees. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court has established that violence in video games and movies is expression protected under the First Amendment.

"Every time something awful like this happens, there’s an urge to try to blame the media for it,” said Paul Smith, a lawyer at Jenner & Block, who has defended media companies against such claims in the past.

Smith was the legal counsel for Nintendo of America, Activision and Sony Computer Entertainment in a lawsuit filed by the families of the 13 victims killed in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. That lawsuit was aimed at 25 entertainment companies and sought $5 billion in damages. Ultimately that lawsuit fell flat when a Colorado federal court dismissed the Columbine case in 2002, finding in favor of the makers of various violent videogames and movies. The judge ruled that these companies could not have foreseen that their products would cause the horrific events that occurred in the Columbine massacre or other acts of violence.

Tort law allows an injured person to seek compensation for a wrongful act, but the victim has the burden of showing that the media company knew or could have seen in advance that its products could have foreseen the potential harm. Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer who represented relatives of victims in the Columbine shooting in a lawsuit against the gunmen’s families said that any lawsuit against the media companies behind the Batman film would be unsuccessful.

Fieger would know: he also sued the Jenny Jones Show on behalf of the family of a gay man who went on the show to reveal a secret crush on a male friend. The male friend later murdered the gay man because he felt that he had been humiliated on national television. In 1999 a Michigan jury awarded the victim’s family $25 million in damages, but an appeals court later overturned the award.

"The Jenny Jones Show was literally lighting a fuse," said Fieger, adding that the show intentionally stirred up strong emotions on the show and then pushed people out the door to deal with those feelings on their own. That behavior made the violence foreseeable, according to Fieger, but even that case ultimately failed on appeal.

Source: Insurance Journal

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