Cinemark is Not Liable for Theater Mass Shooting
On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes carried out a mass shooting that occurred inside of a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. Holmes was dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Twelve people were killed and 70 others were injured. James Eagan Holmes confessed to the shooting but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Arapahoe County prosecutors sought the death penalty for Holmes, and in 2015, he was given 12 life sentences for every person he killed, equivalent to 3,318 years.
This shooting prompted an increase in security at movie theaters across the U.S. that were screening the same film, due to fear of copycat crimes.
A flurry of lawsuits ensued thereafter in both Colorado State and Federal Court. In 2013, the plaintiffs brought various tort claims in their lawsuits, but Cinemark asserted that only the Colorado Premises Liability Act (CPLA) — a state law on the liability of a landowner for injuries on premises — applied. The State Court agreed the plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and wrongful death should fail because of the CPLA. The plaintiffs argued that Cinemark should have known about previous danger and criminal activity at the theater and the conditions of its premises — e.g. the unlocked and unmonitored exit door and the lack of security personnel.
Most recently, in federal court, Cinemark was still facing a claim of violating the Colorado Premises Liability Act for allegedly not exercising reasonable care to protect against dangers.
In May 2016, six jurors in the Colorado State Court case concluded that Cinemark was not liable for the rampage, siding with the nation’s third-largest theater chain in a civil case closely watched by the country’s major theater companies. Indeed, if Cinemark had been held liable, it would have had significant impact on current theater experience in the United States.
In light of the May 2016 decision, Cinemark brought a summary judgment motion in ongoing Federal lawsuit before U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson. On June 24, 2016, Justice Jackson’s dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit against Cinemark. The decision states:
Here, plaintiffs claim that defendants failed to provide certain safety measures such as placing an alarm on the exit door or employing security officers on the evening in question…[e]ven if such omissions contributed in some way to the injuries and deaths, the Court finds that Holmes’ premeditated and intentional actions were the predominant cause of plaintiffs’ losses. The Court concludes that a reasonable jury could not plausibly find that Cinemark’s actions or inactions were a substantial factor in causing this tragedy. Therefore, as a matter of law, defendants’ conduct was not a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injuries.
A heartbreaking loss for the families of the victims; but a ruling sounded in law.