Hundreds of people were injured last October — and dozens killed — when a gunman perched high in the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas fired 1100 rounds onto the Route 91 Harvest Festival below.
The gunman had rented a room in the hotel, on the 32nd floor. He had high powered rifles and enough ammunition to level a battalion. He’d reportedly staked out similar high-rise hotels in other cities before settling on the Mandalay Bay.
Hotels and other businesses typically carry premises liability insurance, because when something bad happens on your premises, you can expect to face liability for it.
Whether they’re ultimately found liable or not, companies know they’re going to be sued when someone is injured on their property.
As it turned out, better security at the Mandalay Bay may have prevented the shooter from carrying high-powered weapons into the hotel, blowing out windows in his room, and shooting people like fish in a barrel. Since inadequate security is among the potential elements of a premises liability claim, no one was surprised when Mandalay Bay was sued, in both Nevada and California state courts, by hundreds of people injured in the attack and the families of those who were lost.
Any defense to the claims was bound to be difficult. During the week prior to the attack, the shooter had stockpiled two dozen weapons in his hotel room, transported in 22 suitcases by bellhops. He had barricaded a stairwell door leading to the room, providing a full 10 minutes in which to terrorize the more than 20,000 concertgoers on the ground. He’d even installed cameras in the vicinity of the room to monitor security personnel trying to breach the barricade and stop the attack.
Under those circumstances, a juror might reasonably ask whether the Mandalay Bay had any security at all.
MGM Resorts International, which owned both the hotel and the adjacent festival venue, was going to pay big time. As Adam Kutner, one of the class-action lawyers suing MGM, put it:
As more information is released regarding the organization of the event and how the attack unfolded, it has become apparent that there were critical issues over safety and security from the beginning.
Primarily, the venue itself presented a number of concerning aspects. The Route 91 Harvest Festival was held at a venue known as The Las Vegas Village, which is an open-air lot directly across from the Mandalay Bay. The outdoor area, owned by MGM Resorts International — who is also the owner of the Mandalay Bay — offered no overhead protection. Although there has been a rise in mass tragedies at entertainment venues, neither the owner of the venue nor the organizers of the festival took any precautions to secure the surrounding high-rise properties, or the area itself.
Secondarily, the organization of the venue also presents issues of adequate security to ensure the safety of festival goers. The site was set up so attendees both entered and exited through a single pathway into an area that was completely fenced off otherwise. Although this was to prevent unauthorized access to the festival, in the end, it was a factor that contributed to the deadliness of the attack. Another crucial aspect of this is the fact that the venue also lacked sufficient emergency exits, preventing attendees from quickly escaping when the shooting started.
Lastly, in the midst of the Route 91 shooting, organizers made no effort to implement evacuation instructions to the panicked crowd. While it’s unlikely that Live Nation, the organizers and promoters of the event even had such protocol outlined ahead of time, the lack of clear evacuation instructions likely contributed to the severity of the attack.
So MGM went judge shopping. Last week, the company filed complaints against more than 1000 victims of the attack in U.S. District Court for Nevada, a federal court considered friendlier toward big businesses than many state courts.
MGM asked the federal court to take “original and exclusive jurisdiction” of the claims and declare MGM not liable for the attack. In the simplest terms, the theory behind the complaint (PDF) was that the firm hired to provide security at the festival held an anti-terrorism certificate from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and that according to a post-9/11 anti-terrorism law, that certificate protected any buyers of the firm’s services from liability for a terrorist attack.
To date, no federal agency has declared the Mandalay Bay attack an act of terrorism.
So MGM’s claim is silly, specious, ridiculous, unbelievable… and likely successful, at least from a strategic standpoint. The claim is designed to force quick and cheap settlements with the shooting victims, within the policy limits of MGM’s insurance.
It’s disgraceful. And sadly, it’s the law.
Our condolences and prayers for healing for all those injured at the Mandalay Bay.