On the first day we opened our doors, Craig told me that I would have to write one legal article a week. That is all of the direction I got. I usually find inspiration in what’s relevant that week and then try to find a way to relate it to a personal experience and an area of law that we practice. Things like Mother’s Day and National Distracted Driving Awareness Month couldn’t have come at a better time. What has been fresh on my mind this week, however, isn’t something I could relate to as it is something I thought was only possible in horror movies: the Aurora theater shooting.
This week marks the start of the first civil trial for wrongful death and personal injury claims related to the shooting. As many know, on July 20, 2012, during a sold-out midnight showing at the Century Aurora 16 Multiplex Theater, an armed man opened fire into the audience, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. After the criminal trial, the shooter was sentenced to 12 life sentences, plus an additional 3,318 years in prison, without the possibility for parole. The civil lawsuit was filed by 28 people who survived the attack or relatives of those who were killed. Unlike the criminal case, the civil case is against Cinemark, the parent company of Century Aurora 16 Multiplex, and not against the shooter. The 28 plaintiffs believe that Cinemark should be held liable for the mass shooting due to its negligence.
To prove negligence in the state of Colorado, the plaintiff has to prove four elements: the defendant had a (1) duty to the plaintiff, the defendant (2) breached that duty, which (3) caused the plaintiff to suffer an (4) actual injury.
What the plaintiffs are alleging in the civil case against Cinemark is that it had a duty to its customers to operate the theater with reasonable care so as to avoid causing or increasing the risk of harm to its customers, to maintain the location in a safe condition, and to take reasonable measures to protect its customers from the consequences of foreseeable criminal acts by other people.
The plaintiffs say Cinemark breached that duty because it failed to take reasonable steps to avoid injuries to the customers from violent crimes. When I first read that, it seemed odd to me that Cinemark could be responsible for another person’s criminal act, called the intervening cause doctrine. But as I read more I found out that, according to the plaintiffs, Cinemark knew that location was ripe with violent criminal activity. Prior to the July 20, 2012, attack, there had been a number of shootings, robberies, and assaults at that location. In response to this increasing violence, Cinemark sometimes hired security guards to work Friday and Saturday shifts. On the night of the shooting, however, there were no security guards at the theater.
The plaintiffs also say Cinemark breached its duty when it failed to make sure the alarms would go off when the emergency exits in the theater were opened. The night of the attack, the shooter propped open the emergency exit in Auditorium 9 so he could easily get back in. The alarm never sounded, meaning either the emergency door was not equipped with an alarm or the alarm wasn’t working.
As a result of the attack, 12 people lost their lives. Numerous others suffered multiple gunshot wounds, resulting in permanent shrapnel lodged in their bodies. Two victims suffered significant brain injuries, two others are permanently paralyzed and one had to have her leg amputated. Several victims suffered various injuries as a result of the mayhem while trying to flee the theater. Others suffered chemical burns from the gas canisters that were released into the theater.
The plaintiffs believe Cinemark’s security failed them that night and that failed security is to blame for the injuries they suffered. If Cinemark would have had proper security in place, such as law enforcement or working security alarms on emergency exits, the attack that happened on July 20, 2012, possibly wouldn’t have taken place or wouldn’t have been as deadly.
We do not represent the victims of the Aurora theater shooting, but I have thought a lot about what that must be like. While the facts of the Aurora shooting case are horrific, most of our clients who are suffering because of someone else’s negligence can understand that life may never be the same. Lawsuits cannot undo the harm done, but I am proud to be on a legal team that strives to fight for those who have been hurt.
To the victims and family members of the victims of the Aurora shooting, our thoughts are with you as you are forced to relive what is likely the worst night of your life through the course of this trial.
By: Tatum Tipton