Mass-Murder Theater|Faces Liability Claims

DENVER (CN) – The movie theater where accused mass murderer James Holmes is accused of killing a dozen people during a midnight showing of a Batman movie will go to trial in 2015 to defend itself against premises liability claims.
     Holmes has pleaded not guilty in a separate criminal case to 166 criminal counts, including murder and weapons charges. Twelve people were killed and dozens wounded at the midnight premier of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012.
     Two months after the shooting, victims and their families filed a number of civil lawsuits against Cinemark USA, the owner of the Century Aurora 16 theater where the shooting took place. Seeking damages for wrongful death, negligence and premises liability, they claimed in Federal Court that the theater’s poor security allowed Holmes to attack the crowd unimpeded.
     In April 2013, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that victims could pursue premises liability claims, but not wrongful death and negligence claims, because no one at the theater could anticipate that a shooting of that magnitude could happen.
     “Plaintiffs alleged that Cinemark knew that criminal activities had taken place ‘at or near’ the theater,” Jackson ruled. “This included assaults, robberies and at least one shooting involving gang activity near the theater. These incidents which commonly occurred at night were such that Cinemark hired security personnel including off-duty law enforcement officers on Friday and Saturday nights when, it might be inferred, the theater drew larger crowds. Cinemark knew, of course, about the construction of the theater, including doors leading directly from a theater auditorium to the outside.
     “Plaintiffs have not alleged that any previous incident had occurred at this theater complex or another Cinemark theater where and individual had gained entry to a theater auditorium through an exterior door that had been propped open or left ajar and had then committed an act of violence against people in the auditorium. Plaintiffs have not alleged that it was known or suspected in the theater industry that an incident of that kind either had occurred in the past or might occur in the future. On the other hand, one would not necessarily expect that plaintiffs would have access to such facts. What Cinemark knew on July 19, 2012 may be known only to Cinemark at this point. There sometimes is a fine line between alleging sufficient facts to state a plausible claim and engaging in a fishing expedition,” Jackson wrote.
     Jackson ruled that victims could seek premises liability claims under the Colorado Premises Liability Act because that law trumps the other claims and the theater at least knew there was some kind of danger in the area from incidents in the past and may have not taken enough precautions.
     According to a status report filed this month, there will be a trial in February 2015.
     At the moment there are 10 plaintiffs in this case. On Friday, another alleged victim filed a similar complaint in Federal Court, and filed a motion to be included in the list of plaintiffs.
     Plaintiffs are represented by William Keating in Denver.
     Century Theaters is represented by Amanda Wiley of Taylor Anderson LLP in Denver.

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