Aurora Theater Sued After July Shooting Rampage

Posted October 9, 2012 in Criminal Law Personal Injury by

Three plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the owner of the Aurora Theater in Colorado following the July shooting attack by James Holmes which left 12 dead and 58 injured. The suits allege that Cinemark failed to provide adequate security and did not take precautions that could have stopped Holmes or mitigated the carnage he caused.

“Although the theater was showing a midnight premier of the movie and was expecting large crowds of people to attend the midnight showing, no security personnel were present for that showing,” the suits claim. “The exterior doors to the theater were lacking in any alarm system, interlocking security systems, or any other security or alarm features.”

Holmes entered the theater with a ticket, then propped open an emergency exit door as he went to his car, loaded up with guns, ammo and armor before coming back and opening fire.

Joshua Nowlan is the plaintiff in one of the lawsuits; the other names Denise Traynom and Brandon Axelrod. All three were shot or suffered other injuries while trying to escape the massacre.

Christina Habas

“The lawsuit is based upon Cinemark’s failure to provide for the safety and security of its theater and its patrons,” attorney Christina Habas, who is involved in both lawsuits, said in a news release. “Readily available security procedures, security equipment and security personnel would likely have prevented or deterred the gunman from accomplishing his planned assault on the theater’s patrons.”

Cinemark has asked the court to dismiss the suit, filing a motion that says, “It would be patently unfair, and legally unsound, to impose on Cinemark, a private business in the entertainment industry, the duty and burden to have foreseen and prevented the criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky.”


Long-shot Lawsuit

Although they may have been filed with the best of intentions, the lawsuits have met with skepticism in some legal circles. “Did the movie theater know or have reason to know that some kind of violent crime might affect their patrons?” said University of Denver Law Professor Tom Russell, in an interview with the Denver Post. “It’s beyond belief that they would know this kind of attack was coming.”

Although the lawsuit alleges that the theater has seen robberies, assaults and at least one shooting in its past, it would be difficult to fit Holmes’ actions into any kind of pattern that the theater could have foreseen or predicted. “In any instance where the crime is so beyond the typical bounds of criminal behavior like this one was, it becomes more difficult to bring the suit,” Russell told Bloomberg news. “This is really a random kind of event for which I wouldn’t expect the business to have any kind of tort liability.”

Tom Russell

Speculation has also abounded that the University of Colorado, where Holmes was formerly a student, could be liable because he had guns and ammunition shipped to himself through the school. “I don’t see how they’ve acted unreasonably,” Russell said. “The mere fact that [the university] received packages is not unreasonable. Lots of us get packages at work.”

Similarly, notions that the producers of the Batman film that was showing in the theater, or any mental health professionals that treated Holmes prior to the shooting, could be liable is also a stretch, the law professor said. “The only obvious civil defendant is the shooter himself, and I doubt that he has anything in the way of assets or insurance.”

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