By Sam Ozer-Staton

The legal fallout continues from the Astroworld Festival in Houston, where eight attendees were killed on Friday in an apparent crowd surge during the headlining set of rapper Travis Scott. By Wednesday, over a dozen lawsuits had been filed against Scott — a Houston native who organized the event — and the festival’s corporate promoters.

Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest live events company and the primary corporate promoter of the festival, has come under particular scrutiny. At least 14 lawsuits have been filed against the company and its subsidiary, Live Nation Worldwide. The massive conglomerate, which also owns the ticket sales company Ticketmaster, is no stranger to controversy. Since 2006, at least 200 people have died and 750 people have been injured at Live Nation events, the Houston Chronicle reported on Monday after an extensive records search.

The lawsuits filed this week make a variety of accusations, including that the event planners failed to take basic crowd-control steps, to allocate staff and resources properly, and to address early signs of chaos at the 50,000-person festival. 

According to legal experts, the events that took place earlier in the day — before the deadly headlining set — will be critical to assessing the degree of legal liability facing Live Nation and the other organizers. 

“There were very early signs that there was a lack of adequate security in the venue,” Stephen Boutros, a Houston-area personal injury lawyer, told me. “The security abandoned the entrance points of the festival. People were literally bull-rushing through the security gates,” Boutros said, referencing the videos circulating on social media. 

That’s important, the experts say, because negligence claims hinge on whether the plaintiffs can prove that the defendants could have foreseen a tragedy occurring. 

“The plaintiff would have to prove that the wrongdoers didn’t act as a reasonable person in their situation should act, and that the damages were foreseeable,” said Derek Merman, a personal injury lawyer with the Houston-based Heard Law Firm. 

Of the lawsuits filed, at least 10 named Scott, whose real name is Jacques Webster, as a defendant. Scott founded the festival in 2018, and he was on stage when the concert turned fatal shortly after 9 PM on Friday. According to multiple reports, Scott — despite pausing his set multiple times after spotting fans who needed medical attention — continued performing for 37 minutes after local officials declared the concert a “mass casualty event.” 

According to Merman, any individual that has a duty to prevent harm can be sued for failing to live up to that duty. “So, if Travis Scott was to profit from the event — and he clearly was — and he was in a position to prevent the harm, then he could be added [to a lawsuit].”

But there are different degrees of negligence, and Scott’s exposure to more serious charges depend on his intent, not just his level of carelessness. 

“When conduct differs between negligence, gross negligence, and criminal activity, it’s based on what’s called mens rea — people’s state of mind and whether they know what they’re doing,” said Boutros. “If [Scott] knew that what he was doing in inciting the crowd would result in catastrophic injury and death, that would obviously rise to the level of criminal behavior.”

At least one of the lawsuits filed this week accuses Live Nation, Scott, and other event planners of gross negligence — a higher civil charge than negligence but a step below criminal negligence. The lawsuit was filed by law firm Kherkher Garcia on behalf of Manuel Souza, who sustained injuries after being trampled at the event. The complaint alleges that the event’s organizers “consciously ignored the extreme risks of harm to concertgoers, and, in some cases, actively encouraged and fomented dangerous behaviors. Their gross negligence caused Plaintiff serious injuries.” 

Proving conscious indifference is essential to prevailing in a gross negligence claim, said Merman. “Gross negligence means you are acting with a conscious indifference to a known danger that is extreme,” he said. “My understanding is that [Scott] was specifically warned that this could happen, and if he did anything to foment the crowd or encourage the stage rush, and did that with knowledge that these kinds of injuries and deaths could happen, then he didn’t act reasonably.” 

The experts cautioned that it’s too early to speculate on the legal outcomes for Live Nation and Scott, and emphasized that the various lawsuits will involve detailed discovery and depositions that will bring forth additional facts. 

But, Merman said, “It seems to me that this was a preventable incident, and that there were people that had a duty to prevent it and didn’t, and that usually ends up in a verdict for the plaintiff.” 

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