Can Movie Theaters Be Held Liable for Patrons Injured in Violent Criminal Acts?

There has been a lot of talk in the media about the new Seth Rogen and James Franco movie, The Interview, being pulled from theaters across the nation. What many people do not realize is that the action was decided upon because movie theaters could face lawsuits if they had known about a specific threat, and that specific threat materialized, resulting in death or injury to movie patrons.

Under What Conditions Are Property Owners and Businesses Liable for Damages?

In 2012, after the Aurora shooting during the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, survivors and families who lost loved ones were able to file a wrongful death suit against Cinemark for inadequate security. Cinemark has defended against the claim by saying that it had no way of knowing a criminal act of violence would occur on its property. As of now, the lawsuit for damages against Cinemark has not moved to trial, but a trial date is expected in the near future.

Wrongful death lawsuits have three important elements that should be established to prove wrongdoing and to award damages:

  • Duty of care implies that a business or property owner has a duty to care for the safety of customers and patrons. A movie theater does have the duty to care for the safety of its patrons.
  • Was there a breach of duty of care? The survivors and families of those lost are claiming that Cinemark failed to hire enough security and that at the same premier in 80 separate Cinemark locations, extra security was present. Cinemark will likely argue that there was no way to know injury or death would come from an unforeseeable violent criminal act.
  • If there was a breach, was it the sole cause of the injuries and deaths of patrons? Was a lack of security the proximate cause of innocent moviegoers losing their lives in a terrible act of violence? Cinemark may be able to shift the blame onto the shooter entirely, saying the criminal act by itself and not a lack of security led to the deaths and injuries of moviegoers. Legal terminology calls this an “intervening cause”.

At some point in the near future, a jury will have to decide whether Cinemark has any blame for an unfortunate act that led to the deaths of innocent people, the pain the survivors endure and the loss families are feeling.

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