Nearly 50,000 people attended the sold-out Astroworld Festival at NRG Park in Houston, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2021. Concertgoers, who paid more than $300 per ticket, eagerly anticipated the performance of Grammy-nominated rapper Travis Scott. Just before Scott was set to appear, the massive crowd began to push toward the stage. Within minutes, many attendees struggled to breathe and lost consciousness. The ensuing surge resulted in the tragic death of eight people.
At this time, there are more questions than answers about the Astroworld incident. There is little doubt, however, that years of litigation will follow. As of this writing, at least two lawsuits have already been filed. This article will address the potential legal ramifications for the venue owners and operators, the security companies, and Scott.
While the law is far from settled, civil actions in “crowd crush” cases generally revolve around traditional negligence principles. To prove a negligence claim, the plaintiffs will have to show that the defendants owed them a legal duty, the defendants breached that duty, and there is a causal relationship between the breach and actual injury or loss sustained by the plaintiffs.
The duty owed to concertgoers under the law is that of reasonable care. Venue owners and operators are not insurers of their patrons’ safety. Instead, they have a duty to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition. In North Carolina, the duty issue involves an analysis of whether the incident was foreseeable. Courts have held that foreseeability of physical harm caused by third persons exists where the defendant knows, or should know, from past experience that the conduct is likely to occur. The cases stemming from the Astroworld incident will similarly hinge on whether the defendants knew, or should have known, that a crowd surge was likely under the circumstances given their past experience.
Assuming the concert attendees establish that a duty was owed, they will have to show a breach. The plaintiffs must prove that the defendants either negligently created the dangerous crowd situation, or negligently failed to correct it after notice of its existence. Cases involving crowd crush injuries almost always involve an allegation that security measures were inadequate. The plaintiffs may argue that there were not enough personnel, that the placement of barricades was improper, or that they had insufficient means to escape.
Once plaintiffs can show both a duty and breach, they must prove causation. If the plaintiffs argue that the safety measures were insufficient, then they must show that additional safety measures would have prevented their injuries. This is a significant hurdle that will likely involve testimony from industry experts. The plaintiffs will also have to put forth medical evidence regarding the cause of death and physical injuries.
Finally, although the investigation into the Astroworld incident is in its early stages, criminal charges are a distinct possibility. The news media has been quick to point out that Scott pled guilty to charges of disorderly conduct for comments he made during concerts in 2015 and 2017. Scott’s actions and statements during his Astroworld Festival performance will be heavily scrutinized. In addition, concertgoers may face charges for disruptive behavior.