Entertainment giant Live Nation’s name is virtually synonymous with large live events and concerts. It is also increasingly showing up as a defendant in wrongful death lawsuits. These cases can lead to large recoveries for plaintiffs but often after substantial challenges, not the least of which is taking on a giant conglomerate dollar for dollar.
Taking a case against a media behemoth or any other deep-pocketed entity that has negligently caused a death requires a clear focus on justice without distractions like worrying about out-of-pocket costs. While those costs are real and ever-increasing, so are Live Nation's current legal woes.
In addition to ongoing lawsuits related to drug overdoses and inadequate security at past events, Live Nation’s been named in hundreds of negligence and wrongful death actions stemming from the November 2021 Astroworld Festival, in which ten people died from compression asphyxia and many more were injured when a dense crowd of fans squeezed toward the concert stage. Live Nation is also facing a probe by the House Oversight and Reform Committee related to the Astroworld incident.
Will Astroworld plaintiffs benefit from Live Nation’s situation? Given the present scrutiny, Live Nation could adopt a transparent approach to the congressional inquiry and discovery in litigation and may even push to settle matters quickly. Plaintiffs, however, would be wise to prepare for an uphill battle.
Liability will likely hinge on whether Live Nation knew or should have known that a crowd surge was likely under the circumstances yet failed to take safety measures that would have prevented deaths and injuries. According to law professor Tracy Hresko Pearl, crowd-related injuries and deaths are not exactly rare, prompting 20,000 to 40,000 people globally to get medical attention each year. Plaintiffs should be able to show that, given the prevalence of crowd-related harms and Live Nation’s own experience as the largest show promoter in the world, it should know how to safely manage crowds. Gathering, reviewing, and analyzing the data to support this claim, however, will drive up costs.
Live Nation may attempt to deflect by characterizing the crowd as extraordinarily unruly or argue that people joining such a crowd assumed the risk of harm. Headliner Travis Scott, who was onstage during the crush, has been an easy target for blame and ire, as some allege that he continued performing despite signs of trouble. In the past, Scott has also been known to encourage audiences to jump over barricades into security areas or leap from balconies into the crowd. Grappling with and evaluating these attempts to shift liability away from Live Nation will require ample time on research and strategy.
Deciding on appropriate causation theories and finding the right experts to support them also requires abundant legal skill and study and, sure enough, money to compensate the experts. Pearl indicates that crowd density is the key factor affecting crowd crush. Effectively controlling density largely reduces the odds of a crush, but once five or more people begin to occupy a square meter—forcing tight, shoulder-to-shoulder standing—the risk becomes high. Once a crush begins, it is virtually unstoppable. The crowd gravitates naturally toward the stage. People in back cannot see when people near the front become compressed, and security or medical staff can do almost nothing to intervene.
Showing that Live Nation knew that reasonable precautions, such as segmenting the crowd into bounded areas with aisles between them, could largely eliminate the risk of a crush but failed to implement those measures may give Plaintiffs a strong chance of recovery. But presenting the case in a compelling way will require tremendous preparation and support from medical and crowd dynamics experts.
It will be interesting to see whether the Astroworld lawsuits will influence crowd control practices going forward. But it’s clear that skilled litigators are working hard to hold those responsible for preventable crowd-related injuries and deaths accountable.
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Further reading: Opinion: We need laws to prevent crowd to crush; Far from the Madding Crowd: A Statutory Solution to Crowd Crush; Astroworld lawsuits top 100 a week after tragic concert; Families Of Two Naperville Men Killed At Astroworld Festival File Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Travis Scott, Concert Organizers; House Oversight committee to probe Live Nation over Astroworld deaths; Scrutiny of Astroworld Festival organizers, Travis Scott mounts as lawsuits pile up; Travis Scott Files Request to Dismiss Astroworld Suits, Live Nation Denies Allegations; Family Suing Live Nation Over Teen’s Fatal Drug Overdose Moves to End Case; Rapper Drakeo's family filing wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles festival's promoters