In his “Stories I’d Like to See” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Does awful luck always have to mean a lawsuit?
As Alison Frankel reported in her Thomson Reuters litigation column, last week a federal judge in Colorado refused to dismiss a suit brought by victims of the movie massacre in Aurora, CO, against Cinemark, the theater chain that owned the Aurora venue.
The judge, as Frankel reports, wrote in his decision that “his first reaction to suits against Cinemark was, ‘How could a theater be expected to prevent something like this.’” But he went on to rule, according to Frankel, that:
[V]ictims should be allowed to probe exactly what Cinemark knew about past criminal activities at the Aurora theater (which had been the site of occasional gang-related violence), what it should have known about the risk of shootings, and what informed its decisions about safety and security for moviegoers. Holmes [the alleged shooter], after all, apparently made more than one trip from the theater to his car, where he had stored weapons and ammunition, and each time returned to the theater via a door he had propped open. “This took an extended period of time, but he was not monitored, deterred or contacted by theater personnel,” the judge said. [Judge] Jackson also noted that the theater didn’t bring in security guards for the midnight Batman premiere, even though it often hired security on the weekends.
To be sure, the judge noted that this was a close call and that he might end up giving the theater owner summary judgment after he reviews pre-trial discovery. Nonetheless, he has opened the door to expensive litigation brought by people who had tragically bad luck against a corporate defendant whose pockets are deep but for whom finding fault would be, to put it mildly, quite a stretch.
Not only does the green light for this case deserve coverage far beyond Frankel’s column, it also suggests lots of related, broader stories:
Will theater owners stop hiring guards occasionally for fear of being held responsible when they don’t?
What will decisions like this do to insurance rates at public venues?
And let’s see a list of all the suits brought (along with their status) against all defendants in this and similar recent tragedies, such as Sandy Hook, Tucson, and now, I guess, the Boston Marathon.
Finally, with all of this in mind, let’s start seeing some probing stories about the litigation that’s probably already brewing as a result of another tragedy last week where the culprit really may be a corporate actor rather then some shallow-pocketed (and, in some cases, dead) mad men: the explosion last week at that fertilizer plant in West, Texas that killed 14 people, left many more missing or severely maimed, and devastated much of the town.
Have plaintiffs’ lawyers already descended en masse on West while the dust is still clearing, as usually happens? Who’s signing up the most clients, and how?
And which corporations responsible for the plant and its safety are their likely targets?
2. Ubiquitous security cameras:
With ubiquitous security cameras (including one positioned outside a department store) having been the key to nailing the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, deploying these remote spy tools is likely to accelerate. As this story reports, even as the FBI and police were just starting to close in on the brothers Tsarnaev, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago “lauded the use of such cameras in Chicago” and promised to keep buying more.
So, it’s time for a slew of stories about this surging security technology. Who are the big winners in the business? What are the economics? What are the quality differences in the products being sold?
Have any courts impeded the deployment of video recording devices, challenging what seems to be the logical argument that if you can be seen in a public place you have no legal expectation of privacy?
Which cameras also record audio? And doesn’t the possibility of overhearing conversations raise privacy issues beyond those having to do with people in public just being seen?
Have any private parties tried to subpoena video (or audio) recordings from cameras deployed by other private parties or even the police? For example, if a hotel has security cameras in the lobby or at the entrance, has anyone involved in a contentious divorce tried to use the recordings for evidence?