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Aurora Movie Theatre Shooting May Present Interesting Questions for Future Cases

When James Holmes walked into the Cinemark movie theatre in July of 2012 through an exit door he propped open and shot to death 12 people and injured 70 others, there had been nothing like that sort of attack in a movie theatre in recent history. The victims and families of victims have since filed a civil suit in Pueblo County, Colorado court where trial is currently taking place in a wrongful death and premises liability suit.

According to Courthousenews.com, because nothing like this has ever happened before, Cinemark’s attorneys are asking the court whether or not Cinemark should have known that a violent crime could happen. Cinemark has taken the stance that regardless of increased security, Cinemark would have been unable to stop the attack from happening. From their point of view, nothing like this had ever happened, so increased security would not have been able to thwart it without prior knowledge the attack could or would occur.

To quote Cinemark attorney, John Roach, “A widely motivated armed to the teeth killer with enough firepower to take out a small municipality with no plans to return home to a bomb-infused apartment … he couldn’t have been deterred by a camera. A camera doesn’t deter armed robberies across the country.” (via courthousenews.com).

But here is the thing, this case survived summary judgment. That means that when Roach and Cinemark moved to dismiss the case before trial, the court ruled against them and in favor of the Plaintiff’s to allow the case to move forward at trial. If this case goes to a jury and that jury finds Cinemark liable in the claims for wrongful death and premises liability, that will send a shockwave through the movie theatre industry.

The civil suit is certainly less flashy and has garnered much less press than the much anticipated criminal trial, but it may have a greater effect on the general public than at first glance. First, if the jury awards money damages, it is going to be a HUGE FIGURE. Millions upon millions. Cinemark won’t like that, but whatever. In a case like this, nobody cares about the movie theatre’s feelings. Lots of people died. Children died.

What will happen next will effect every movie, concert and entertainment venue goer for the rest of time. Do you think the industries will simply lie in wait and hope this never happens again (the terrorist attack, and insane money damages award)? No. They are going to take measures to ensure that their butts are covered. It does not matter that this case is from Colorado and only has some persuasive authority in Colorado (unless upheld on appeal, then it becomes precedential in all of Colorado). This case will effect entertainment in all of America. Suddenly, not only will movie theatres and entertainment venues be liable for things that occurred on their premises for which they had some control over, but now they may live in fear of the things they cannot.

Nobody had any idea James Holmes would plot such a horrible crime to occur on their premises. That is Cinemark’s point. How could they have known. Well, now they know. That is this case’s point, regardless of its outcome. Even if that jury in Pueblo County returns a verdict in favor of Cinemark, that does not mean that they will come out unscathed in future cases. They are now on notice that violent crimes may be committed on their premises, and some court, somewhere will hold them accountable if something even remotely like this tragic incident happens again. Once that happens: It is Pandora’s box and the entire entertainment industry will know that.

What will that mean for consumers? Greater safety? Hopefully. Increased pricing? Yup. Why? Insurance costs mostly. Then the added costs to provide the safety measures that their insurance carriers will now either require as a part of coverage or provide discounts for having. But that is a whole other can of worms…