Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Rapper’s tumultuous past raises alarm bells in Astroworld lawsuits

Lawsuits are piling up less than a week after the deadly crowd at the Astroworld concert gathered, and legal experts say there is an increased risk of liability for rapper Travis Scott and the companies behind the Houston tragedy.

Several legal experts told The Associated Press that Scott’s past incitement to concertgoers could facilitate the filing of negligence claims against the companies that planned and operated the show, which killed eight people. and left hundreds of wounded. And although the investigation has just begun, experts expect several dozen more lawsuits for damages, which can reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the center of the legal maelstrom is Scott, a 30-year-old rapper known for driving fans crazy. who pleaded guilty to an offense of stirring up the crowd at previous concerts.

“It got everyone’s attention:“ This is what happened and there is no reason why it can’t happen again, ”said John Werner, a Beaumont, Texas-based lawyer not involved in Astroworld cases. “They know this is a situation that can get out of hand.”

“This tragedy has been created for months, if not years,” wrote Houston lawyer Steve Herkcher in a suit claiming more than $ 1 million per person caught in the melee, which he said was “predictable and preventable” given the rapper’s history.

To date, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against Scott and several companies, including entertainment giant Live Nation, the nonprofit ScoreMore, which operates the Houston-owned establishment. The complaints allege that the organizers failed to take simple steps to contain the crowd, properly staff, and act at the first sign of trouble at the sold-out concert at NRG Park, which attracted 50,000 fans.

“The way the concert was arranged, planned, orchestrated and how it was handled when the problem arose is amazing,” attorney Tony Buzby said this week, announcing that he was suing on behalf of three dozen victims. including the death of 21-year-old Axel Acosta.

Buzbee’s press conference was addressed directly to public opinion, slides and video clips were added in the tone of the opening statement.

He and other lawyers seized on an early clue to the problem, which arose hours before the concert, as crowds of fans ran past security systems and metal detectors over a fence.

“Whatever security they had, it was completely inadequate,” said former federal attorney Philip Hilder, a Houston-based lawyer who was not involved in any Astroworld case. “The crowd went right through.”

Hilder also criticized the 56-page event planning document that was submitted to the city for approval. He said the plans were “formulaic,” with too few details about the security of the show’s parking lot, which lacked seating, walkways and corrals to keep the crowd in check.

A planning document obtained by the Associated Press and handed over to Hilder mentions the possibility of a tornado, bomb threats, heavy gunfire, civil disobedience and unrest, but does not mention a possible surge in crowds.

Several lawyers say the lawsuit is likely to focus on the unexplained delay between when the city announced a “mass casualty event” and when the concert organizers finally stopped the show, a 37-minute hiatus during which fans continued to move towards the stage. losing consciousness. and crush.

“The group continued to exist long after the problem arose,” said Frank Branson, a Dallas-based personal injury attorney. “It’s hard to believe that this was not a deliberate disregard for the public, safety and well-being.”

It is unclear what Scott could see from the stage as his fans were pushed, beaten, pinned and trampled, some screaming to stop the show.

The video posted on social media shows Scott stopping the music at some point, pointing to the audience and asking someone for help: “Security, someone help, jump really fast.”

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On Saturday, in an Instagram post, the rapper said he was “devastated” by these deaths and assumed he was unaware of the carnage beneath him.

“Every time I can figure out what’s going on, I stop the show and help them get the help they need,” he said. “I just never imagined the severity of the situation.”

Scott’s representatives did not respond to an email from AP asking for comment on Tuesday.

Scott is known for encouraging fans to ignore safety and crowd and dive on stage in the mosh pit below him. The promotional video for this year’s Astroworld event, which was removed from YouTube, shows fans breaking through the barricades and storming the concert venue at the 2019 event.

In 2015, Chicago officials said Scott urged fans at the Lollapalooza music festival to overcome safety barriers. The rapper was sentenced to one year of judicial review after pleading guilty to reckless behavior charges.

In 2017, Scott was arrested after urging fans to bypass security and rush onto the stage during a concert in Arkansas, leaving a security guard, police officer, and several others injured. Scott was charged with several misdemeanors, including incitement to riot. He pleaded guilty to hooliganism and paid a fine.

Scott has also been sued by a viewer who says he was partially paralyzed when pushed off a third-floor balcony at a 2017 New York concert, an incident that the man said happened after Scott summoned people jump.

Dallas-based lawyer Ellen Presby said Scott’s past would help bring a case against him, but his likely defense would be to claim that he is just a performer who leaves security details to others, making it difficult to assign blame.

Defense lawyers will argue that “what he does is jump on stage and do his job, and all this is prepared for him,” she said. If she had defended him, she added, she would have “tried to find facts that surprised and frightened him as much as everyone else.”

Houston attorney CJ Baker said a criminal case against Scott is possible given his past behavior, but it will be difficult because it will have to establish intent, not just negligence.

“You will need to show that he acted in such a way, that he kind of knew what was going on and acted in one way or another,” he said. “This is a much larger and steeper hill to climb” than the lawsuits.

Houston-based lawyer Joel Androphy said most law firms are likely to focus on civil suits, which would force defendants to obtain resources to pay significant damages.

Aside from Scott, the biggest legal target is Live Nation, a publicly traded company whose shares have skyrocketed as fans rush to new concerts and festivals now that many of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. The company declined to comment on what went wrong, but released a statement Monday that it is helping police investigate the criminal case. and “will consider all legal issues in due course”.

The company said it had $ 4.6 billion in cash as of September. Its shares fell 1% on Tuesday afternoon after falling more than 5% the day before.

It will be difficult to sue Houston and Harris County for negligence given that both enjoy broad protection under the doctrine of sovereign and state immunity, but there are exceptions, several lawyers said.

“They are mostly protected, but their behavior will be viewed critically,” said Houston lawyer Randy Sorrels, former president of the Texas Bar Association.

___

Condon reported from New York. Associated Press contributors Juan Lozano and Robert Bumstead in Houston and Gary Hamilton in New York contributed to this report.

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