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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  1. 0
    jedidethfreak says:

    There is no law MANDATING that exit doors sound an alarm.  The door wasn't an "EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY" door (which there is still no law mandating an alarm for) – it was a regular exit door.  When you walk out the door of a Burger King, or a Target, or a Cub Foods, alarms don't trigger mandating everyone in the store leave.

  2. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    To be clear, and I'm sure you're aware of this, Holmes propped the door open himself.

    But you're right, if there is some law on the books that says theater exit doors must sound an alarm when opened or have been open for a certain amount of time (or something that says theaters must ensure exit doors are securely closed at all times) then yeah, the theater could be liable.

    Even so, if he couldn't get back in the exit door, he could have easily walked in the front door and shot up the lobby on the way back to the theater.


    Andrew Eisen

  3. 0
    Left4Dead says:

    Me either.  But there are all sorts of weird laws on the books in every state.  This is a public enough case though that every meaningless aspect will be nitpicked.  But if the door wasn't propped open, the guy wouldn't have been able to get back into the theater that way and shoot the place up.

    Here's a probable starting point but I'm too lazy to look further:

    -- Left4Dead --

  4. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Hopefully, no odious lawyer is praying on the families' grief to convince them to do something so stupid and unreasonable for his or her own selfish means.


    Andrew Eisen

  5. 0
    Left4Dead says:

    Suing the movie theater might work in this instance – when the emergency exit door was "propped open" – a key phrase that would be suitable to latch onto in any suit, it should have emitted noise that would have interrupted the viewing of the show and alerted movie theater personnel to an odd situation.  It might be a violation of state law for a public venue as a movie theater to not have such equipment or verify and maintain its functionality on a regular basis – they could be fined heavily for that especially since it lead to an actual, measurable death count.  Even with that, I'm not sure a lawsuit would work here, but the state could recover a nice, heavy sum of cash from the theater if the law allowed for it.

    This is what life insurance is for folks.  If you die prematurely in some untimely manner, the insurance company pays out benefits according to the policy to the surviving family members.  No need for a lawsuit.

    -- Left4Dead --

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