Law Office of Tim Powers
Family members of those killed and survivors of the shooting at an Aurora,
Colorado, movie theater may find it difficult to pursue civil liability
claims tied to the attack, which resulted in 12 dead and 58 injured.
The potential for liability would center on the safety and security procedures
at the theater where the July 20 shooting took place, or the university
where the suspect, James Holmes, allegedly received packages of ammunition.
Inquiries by plaintiffs' lawyers are unlikely to lead to successful
lawsuits because such cases require some proof that a company or organization
acted unreasonably, and knew, or should have known, about the danger posed.
This is especially difficult to demonstrate when the crime is as horrific
as last week's shooting, was committed by someone who isn't an
employee of the theater, and couldn't have been 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. This is
really a random kind of event for which I wouldn't expect the business
to have any kind of tort liability.
While a court may find Holmes guilty, he is a 24-year-old former student
without any apparent assets to pursue in a civil case. Since he is an
adult, his parents couldn't be sued because they're no longer
responsible for his behavior.
Holmes is being held without bond on suspicion of first- degree murder,
a charge that can carry the death penalty in Colorado. Holmes was advised
of his rights at a state court hearing yesterday in the Denver suburb
of Centennial. A hearing to issue formal charges is scheduled for July
30. Holmes hasn't entered a plea in the case.
The gunman bought a ticket for "The Dark Knight Rises," entered
the theater and watched the film for a while before leaving, according
to police. He went to a white Hyundai outside the building, put on a helmet
and ballistic vest, armed himself and returned to the theater, police said.
Questions about security might leave the theater open to liability.
Security at the Theater
It is somewhat questionable how Holmes was able to leave the movie theater
out the rear exit, prop it open and return as much as 15 minutes later
armed in full battle gear without some alarm going off and someone checking
that back door. Families of victims and those injured need to consider
whether it's worthwhile to sue
Lawsuits are very difficult and the prospect of recovery is going to be
a very difficult process. The injured are facing tremendous amounts of
medical bills and potentially long-term disability and financial losses.
They have to consider whether it's worthwhile.
The movie theater owners have an obligation to provide a safe place for
patrons. If a suspect entered from the front entrance with weapons showing,
there could be a "strong case" for liability.
In the Aurora shooting, any case against the theater is weak because the
actions were unforeseeable. Even if the exit door Holmes used for re-entry
was unlocked, "what's the risk associated with that? That someone
will get to see the movie for free?
A lawsuit against Burbank, California-based Time Warner, parent company
of Warner Brothers, the studio that made "The Dark Knight Rises,"
would be even weaker, because the company is protected by its constitutional
right to freedom of expression.
Even putting aside the constitutional arguments, to link somehow this movie
with his motivation for his act, there's just no case.
Warner Bros. made an unspecified donation to aid surviving victims and
families of those who died in the shooting.
Authorities found a surveillance video of Holmes picking up 150 pounds
of ammunition at a Federal Express outlet in Colorado, said a law enforcement
official who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
Investigators interviewed a United Parcel Service Inc. driver who said
Holmes had 90 packages delivered to his workplace on the University of
Colorado medical campus.
Lawsuits against the university would also face hurdles. Under Colorado
law, public institutions such as the University of Colorado are protected
by governmental immunity unless their actions are willful. A successful
federal claim could be brought against the school if plaintiffs were able
to show that the university was deliberately indifferent to a known danger.
Claims might also be filed against people who sold Holmes ammunition. Even
though the sale is legal, it's possible you can get someone for negligence
for not asking the question 'Why are we sending 6,000 rounds of ammunition
to one address?' However, to prevail a plaintiff would have to show
a regulatory violation.
Victims who decide to sue could be in for a long wait as civil claims might
take as much as five years to resolve. Often such suits have to wait until
the criminal trial is over, which prosecutors said is at least a year away.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County criminal case or arrest
in Denton County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no
charge or obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult