By Minh Nguyen
In 2012, the British band Radiohead was rehearsing on a stage in Downsview Park, Toronto, when the dome of the stage collapsed. Drum technician Scott Johnson, 33, was crushed by a 2,270kg monitor and killed instantly.
A year later, the Ontario Ministry of Labour charged the staging company, Optex Staging & Services; the promoter, Live Nation Canada Inc.; and the head engineer, Dominic Cugliari, with 13 offences. However, the band and Scott’s family had to wait until 2019 to find closure.
According to Sue Johnson, Scott Johnson’s mother: “They seem to have forgotten Scott in all this. They seem to forget that Scott lost his life because somebody made a mistake."
After the crowd surge in the Astroworld concert in Houston, Texas, on November 5, rappers Travis Scott, Drake and promoter Live Nation received a $2 billion lawsuit.
However, these lawsuits might not come to a satisfying end.
As every organizer has to follow an “Occupier’s Liability.”
According to R. Lee Akazaki, a Toronto-based Civil Litigation specialist: “People attending a concert expect a level of care from the people who invited them. But that doesn’t mean they’re liable for it.”
He gave an example of The Beatles’ fans screaming and fainting at their concerts in the ‘60s; the band themselves were not responsible for the fans’ health.
However, what could hold Travis Scott liable is his history of inciting violence at his concerts. He pleaded guilty twice for inciting a riot at one concert in Chicago in 2015 and another in Arkansas in 2017.
In a 2015 interview, Scott said: “We don’t like people that just stand. Whether you’re Black, white, brown, green, purple, yellow, blue, we don’t want you standing around.”
According to Akazaki, the likelihood of Drake being charged “depends on whether there’s provocation by inference. But you’re talking about [the audience] with free will here; they’re not members of a cult.”
To hold Live Nation accountable, “we have to ask what they could have done that’s out of the ordinary.”
According to concert safety expert Paul Wertheimer: “The layout [of the stage] could have worked, but it was overcrowded.” He also criticized the organizers for not having safety plans and only giving the executive producer and festival director the power to stop the show.
“The idea that the promoter and the artist have more power than the police, more power than the fire marshal to control the safety of the crowd – are you kidding me? That’s a joke.” – Concert Safety expert, Paul Wertheimer
On November 22, two security guards - Samuel and Jackson Bush - named 28 people and corporations, including Scott, in their lawsuits for the lack of training and preparation.
The Houston Police Department might have had blood on their hand, too. They declared Astroworld a “mass casualty event” - 30 minutes before it finished and did not stop the concert.
In a recently published statement, Edwin F. McPherson, Travis Scott’s lawyer noted: “This also runs afoul of HPD's own previous actions when it shut down the power and sound at this very festival when the performance ran over five minutes, back in 2019.”
Even if Live Nation is culpable, whether or not they admit it is just another matter. In the Radiohead case, the charge was first declared a mistrial in 2017 because the original judge, Shaun Nakatsuru, moved to a higher court. Then the new judge, Ann Nelson, ruled in favour of the defendants because the case last too long - going over the 18-month ceiling for proceedings in provincial courts.
In 2019, Dirk Huyer - Chief Coroner of Ontario, launched an inquest into Johnson’s death. He discovered that the stage did not have the truss component that the design required to support the roof.
Head engineer Cugliari admitted the designs were sloppy, but he said he believed Optex used the trusses required. A Live Nation representative also expressed regret but did not apologize.
On November 15, Astroworld claimed its youngest victim – 9-year-old Ezra Blount of Dallas died after a medically induced coma. The Blount family seek $1 million in damages, but it remains uncertain whether they will receive the amount or an apology from the defendants.
“Usually, young people with no dependants only get a moderate amount,” added Akazaki.
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