Here’s Who Could Be Held Legally Liable for the Astroworld Tragedy
Who will be held legally responsible for the deaths of eight concertgoers and injuries of many others at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival at Houston’s NRG Park on Nov. 5? If the mounting lawsuits filed over the last few days are any indication, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Texas is home to at least 46 civil lawsuits that seek damages for injury or death.—who performed onstage alongside Scott—and Live Nation Entertainment Inc. among those sued.
Scott was involved in one case. IndictedActively encouraging[ing]Foment[ing] dangerous behaviors” that led to the deaths as well as 23 people being hospitalized, 11 people going into cardiac arrest, and more than 300 being treated for injuries on site. The criminal investigation is still ongoing by the authorities. TIME spoke to two attorneys to gain insight on who could be responsible for the breach and what can we expect from them as they are further investigated.
Was there anything that happened during the Astroworld Festival
On Friday night, some 50,000 people showed up to NRG Park stadium complex, the home of the Texans football team, for Scott’s third annual Astroworld Festival. Scott created the event in 2018 as a celebration of his hometown; its first two iterations drew large, rowdy crowds there for both Scott’s high-octane musical performances and exclusive merch. (Scott prides himself on the ferocity of his live shows, in which mosh pits frequently break out during his seizing, punk-oriented hip-hop anthems like “Goosebumps” and “NO BYSTANDERS.”) This year, the energy was high right from the jump: videos from early in the day on Friday showed young concertgoers rushing through the barricades (although that sort of behavior is not uncommon at music festivals).
Following a string of opening acts, Scott took the stage at the mainstage. This sent the packed crowd in a frenzy. Fans pressed toward the stage from the sides, according to Fire Chief Samuel Peña, leaving little room for people in the front middle section to breathe. Authorities said that they are still not sure what caused the stampede. The crowd began to collapse in the middle, with very young concertgoers being among the casualties. Two teenagers died and another was admitted to hospital. Around 9:30, an ambulance entered the crowd. Videos were captured by fans. dancing on topIt is.
The show continued. It only was around 10:10, or more than 30 minutes after city officials declared the show a “mass casualty event,” that the concert ended. Videos of concertgoers screaming “stop the show” to no avail circulated on social media. It’s unclear how much of the violence could be seen from the stage or by concert organizers, although Scott stopped the show at least once to direct security toward unconscious people. (It’s not uncommon for people to pass out at shows, especially those by Scott.)
Troy Finner, Houston’s police chief, told the New York TimesOfficials were concerned that the delay in closing down the event could lead to more violence and animosity. “You cannot just close when you got 50,000 and over 50,000 individuals,” he said. “We have to worry about rioting, riots, when you have a group that’s that young.”
Is Travis Scott responsible for the accident?
In the history of mass deaths at music events over the last half century, it’s quite rare for the onstage performer to be held liable. Pearl Jam wasn’t sued in 2000 when nine people were trampled to death at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark; neither were the Who when 11 people died at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum in December 1979.
There are many factors that could make this case different. Scott wasn’t just a performer, but an organizer and supervisor of the event. The New York Times reported that Scott had been warned about potential crowd control and safety issues by Finner, the Houston Police Chief, who went to Scott’s trailer to voice his concerns in person.
Scott’s lawyers are challenging Scott because he is known for rousing people in an unruly manner. He’s been arrested twice for encouraging concertgoers to ignore security and storm his stage, in Chicago and Arkansas. He was under arrest for encouraging fans to jump off a New York balcony in 2017.Kyle Green was a fan who sued him The concert was interrupted by a fall from a balcony, which resulted in the paralysis of Green. (Green’s lawyer, Howard Hershenhorn, wrote in an email to TIME that the case has yet to be resolved and is still in the discovery phase.) Three persons were hurt in the 2019 Astroworld.
“This is an artist that has a propensity to create mayhem and create a disregard for safety,” Thomas Henry, a Texas lawyer who is representing several victims of the festival, told TIME.
Injury lawyers will also try to argue that that Scott’s sometimes-violent lyrics should be used as evidence against him. (“It ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries,” he rhymes on 2018’s “Stargazing.”) This sort of tactic—It has been used in many criminal cases throughout the years.—This has attracted a fair amount of criticism. “Great music is more often than not rooted in storytelling, and by imposing criminal consequences for a story told through an artistic medium, the court here threatens to stifle creativity and limit the scope of artistic expression,” the lawyer Dina Lapolt wrote in Variety this year while protesting the decision of Maryland’s highest court to make rap lyrics admissable.
It’s unclear how much Scott knew how dire the situation was while onstage. “Any time I could make out anything that was going on, I’d stop the show and help them get the help they need,” he said in an Instagram video after the show, appearing distraught. “I could never imagine the severity of the situation.”
Drake is unlikely to be held responsible as he wasn’t an organizer of the event and was only a support act for Scott. Still, a lawsuit that names him as a defendant and argues that “he helped incite the crowd even though he knew of Travis Scott’s prior conduct.”
What amount could be distributed in settlements?
Scott is not the only one named in the lawsuits. Scoremore and Live Nation are also included as well as the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation which runs NRG Park. The lawyer Henry says that a key part of his lawsuit is to obtain the festival’s contracts, to determine the liability of the respective parties as well as the insurance contracts that may be in place. “Those contracts are going to allow us to determine a lot more about the relationships between all of the parties that may be responsible,” he says.
The organizers were aware of the potential dangers when they began concert preparations. They were responsible for providing security services and emergency medical assistance, managing crowds, and establishing evacuation routes. The New York Times reported that a security plan produced by the concert’s organizers before the festival cautioned that “the potential for multiple alcohol/drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs, and the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation are identified as key concerns.” Security was also beefed up compared to last time: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that 528 police officers and “755 security guards provided by Live Nation” were assigned to the concert, According to the L.A. Times
Attorneys for the festival’s victims will try to argue that organizers were unprepared to the point of negligence: that there was a lack of trained security, capable medical staff or even water to combat dehydration on the grounds. Sami Anjum was an EMT who attended the festival and spoke to the Washington Post that the festival “simply had too many patients and not enough medical staff,” and that medics ran out of necessary equipment due to a deluge of people suffering from drug overdoses. CNN spoke to a security guard assigned to the festival who said he quit Friday morning because of concerns about security and lack of training. Henry says he is also looking into suing other defendants, including “security companies” and “planning companies.”
Given that the number of people with claims is already extremely high—Henry says he is representing over 100 concertgoers in lawsuits—the settlement claims could be astronomical. For reference, the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas resulted in MGM Resorts International—which owned the festival venue—and its insurers making $800 MillionIn payouts. This sum is paid in large part by insurance companies. 751 Million. Live Nation was earlier this year Ordained to Pay $20 million for pain and suffering for a construction worker who suffered traumatic brain injury while building a vendor’s booth at Jones Beach Theater.
“When you’re looking at the deaths and injuries, I would not be surprised to determine at some point that the level of verdicts in this case could reach in the billions,” Henry says.
Is it possible to go to jail for someone else?
The civil lawsuits continue apace, but local authorities are also investigating whether Scott and other defendants should be charged with criminal offences. It’s much harder to be convicted on criminal charges—which require evidence beyond the reasonable doubt—than on civil charges, which require a preponderance of the evidence, or a greater than 50% chance of being true.
“I think that there certainly is negligence, but whether that negligence rises to the criminal level all depends on the evidence they uncover,” the injury lawyer Howard Hershenhorn says. “We’re starting to see small openings of that, like the fact that the police chief met with Scott previous to the show and there was a conversation with him about security.” A spokeswoman for Live Nation wrote in a statement that event organizers would “provide as much information and assistance as possible to the local authorities.”
Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge called for an independent investigation. She argued that Houston Police Department might be culpable. The investigation will look at whether drugs were involved in the crowd surge.
It is not unusual for organizers to be convicted of concert-related deaths. After the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland in 2016 that left 36 concertgoers dead, the venue’s primary leaseholder Derick Almena was Condemned to Twelve Years in PrisonHe is being held in home confinement for one and a quarter years for criminal negligence. This is due to credit for the time he spent behind bars, while awaiting trial.
21 people were killed in a stampede that occurred at Germany’s Love Parade. Ten employees of Duisburg as well as the organization of the event were criminally charged. Because of a lack evidence linking individuals to this tragedy, as well as COVID-19’s impacts in 2020, the trial was abandoned.
Given the number of potential victims and defendants involved, it’s likely that any civil and criminal cases will drag on for years. Henry hopes that concert companies will develop more protection measures to protect the public in the future, and not just legal disputes. “There has to be a better protocol in place to protect the public,” he says. “I hope that all these institutions associated with live performances take this to heart and begin to make changes immediately.”