Victims from Friday’s deadly disaster at Astroworld are now headed to court in droves, but what exactly will their attorneys need to prove in order to win their claims against Travis Scott, Live Nation and others? We asked top legal experts.
The lawsuits, 46 and counting as of Wednesday, accuse Scott, Live Nation and others involved in operating Astroworld of being legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the festival, which left eight dead and dozens injured after fans surged toward the stage.
In basic terms, an accusation of negligence means that planners of Astroworld had a duty to keep concertgoers reasonably safe, and that they failed to do so. In one case filed on behalf of a 9-year-old boy who was trampled, attorneys say Scott and Live Nation had “egregiously failed in their duty to protect the health, safety, and lives of those in attendance at the concert.”
We’ve all seen the horrible videos and the mounting lawsuits, but what will the victims of Friday’s disaster actually need to show in court? To answer that question, Billboard asked top legal experts from around the country to explain the cases in layman’s terms.
Calls to ‘Rage’: Did Travis Scott’s Past Raise Red Flags?
To prove a claim of negligence, experts say attorneys for victims will need to show that an outcome like Friday night — a rowdy crowd of people surging toward the stage and causing harm — was something that they could have seen coming and that steps could have been taken to prevent it.
On this front, Travis Scott’s backstory could be key.
Ahead of last week’s disaster, Scott was already infamous for rowdy shows in which he urged fans to “rage” and disobey rules. He was arrested for urging fans to storm the stage at Lollapalooza in 2015 and again in Arkansas in 2017. He was also sued in 2017 over a New York City show in which he urged fans to jump from a balcony and a fan was partially paralyzed, and several injuries resulted from the 2019 Astroworld.
That punk-rock persona was a big part of Scott’s personal brand, but according to John Goldberg, a deputy dean at Harvard Law School who has written treatises on tort law, well-documented troubles with crowd control will help victims show that Live Nation and other organizers should have seen Friday coming.
“If Astroworld was on notice that Scott’s concerts tend to be more chaotic than other performers’ concerts,” says Goldberg, “it would be required by negligence law to take the extra degree of danger or risk into account in deciding what sort of security measures to put into place.”
Planning for Problems: Could This Have Been Prevented?
If attorneys for victims can show that that Astroworld’s organizers could have foreseen the risk of a crowd surge, they will then need to show that they didn’t take the proper steps to prevent it.
For example, lawsuits filed thus far have argued that the event was overcrowded and poorly laid out, that it lacked sufficient security guards to prevent the surge, and that sufficient routes for evacuation from were not provided, among other failings.
But experts say those claims cannot be vague arguments about concert safety. Attorneys for victims will need to show that specific steps should have been taken and — crucially — that those measures would that prevented the injuries and deaths suffered by their clients.
“Those pursuing claims are not going to be able to just speculate that their injuries would not have occurred based on a vague theory that “more should have been done,” says Deedee R. Gasch, an attorney at the firm Cranfill Sumner LLP who has written about “crowd crush” cases.
“Concert organizers are not required to account for every single possibility or even an unruly crowd,” Gasch says. “Injury alone does not automatically equate to negligence.”
‘Mass Casualty’: Should the Show Have Been Stopped?
The lawsuits target not only the planning in the lead up to Astroworld, but also the way the show was conducted that evening. One aspect of Friday night that has drawn particular scrutiny is the fateful decision to keep the concert going for roughly 40 minutes after local officials had declared a so-called “mass casualty” event. Victims and their attorneys say that delay cost lives.
But legal experts say the victims probably have a stronger case in attacking the failures in how organizers planned and prepared for a possible tragedy, rather than in how they reacted in those chaotic minutes. Videos have emerged of police near the crowd who are seemingly unaware of the disaster unfolding within the pit, and Scott himself has said he had no idea about the severity of the problem.
“From everything I’ve read so far, it would have been quite challenging to truly appreciate in real time the gravity and complexity of what was unfolding,” says Adam Scales, a professor at Rutgers Law School and an expert in tort law.
“That doesn’t mean that the plaintiffs won’t be able to prove negligence on evidence that guys called this in on the radio and then they still did nothing, but I think these cases will be won or lost on whether there was a reasonable plan in place,” Scales says.
At Your Own Peril: Did Fans Know the Risk?
One potential hurdle for victims is the fact that Live Nation — like almost any other provider of live events — requires attendees to agree to a waiver of liability when they purchase their tickets.
According to documents obtained by TMZ, Live Nation required Astroworld concertgoers to “voluntarily assume all risks and danger incidental to the event for which the ticket is issued, whether occurring before, during or after the event, and you waive any claims for personal injury or death against us.”
But experts stressed that waivers are not some magic wand that allow a corporation to avoid all responsibility for any conduct. Scales says courts are often hesitant to apply broad liability waivers in the cases of outright negligence.
“I predict that the waivers are not going to factor in much at all,” says Scales.
Speaking more generally, legal experts also cast doubt on suggestions that Astroworld organizers will be able to successfully defend themselves by arguing that Travis Scott fans should have assumed that there was a risk of injury in attending one of his shows.
“These imagined defense arguments strike me, personally, as quite weak,” says Goldberg. “Concertgoers might appreciate that Travis Scott concerts are very rowdy, yet also reasonably believe that the organizers have taken steps to ensure that the situation does not go from rowdy to deadly.”
The Man Himself: Is Travis Scott Personally Responsible?
Another major question that will need to be answered in the looming litigation will be the extent to which Scott himself will be liable for the disaster, versus institutional defendants like Live Nation, ScoreMore, or Contemporary Services Corp., the contractor that handled security.
Legal experts say an artist who merely performs at a concert festival would be unlikely to face negligence liability for injuries or deaths among fans, barring true incitement of the crowd beyond evidence that has thus far surfaced out of Friday’s disaster.
But Scott and his Cactus Jack Records were more heavily involved in Astroworld than a typical band that plays a multi-day festival like Coachella. The festival was centered around Scott himself: it was named for his album, held in his hometown, and fans entered the grounds through a giant version of his head.
“He’s not the background singer who just shows up and hits his marks,” says Scales. “I’m guessing there is sufficient operational interdependence between the Travis Scott team and the festival organizers that they’re going to rise or fall together on the question of liability.”