A federal judge declined to dismiss lawsuits against Cinemark, the owner of the Aurora, Colo. movie theater where 12 were killed and 70 injured in a shooting last summer. Judge R. Brooke Johnson ruled that wrongful death and liability suits against Cinemark could move forward, but dismissed separate suits claiming negligence.
"Cinemark owed a duty to the invitees to not unreasonably fail to protect them from dangerous conditions about which they knew or should have known," said Heather Salg, a personal injury attorney at Harris, Karstaedt, Jamison & Powers, P.C. in Englewood, Colo. "So the question here is going to be can the plaintiffs come forward with evidence that Cinemark should have known this could occur because that door was allowed to be propped open?"
Three of the injured victims of the shooting brought the suit against the property, arguing that the unlocked, unmonitored exit through which alleged shooter James Holmes entered is cause for a suit.
"Plaintiffs in these types of cases have to overcome two hurdles. First they have to prove that the defendant knew or should have known of this potential danger," said Salg. "Then they have to show that the defendant failed to use reasonable care."
The judge says that the cases against Cinemark, "present difficult questions of interpretation and application of law," and noted that the decision to proceed was “a close call.”
"We generally feel that it's harder for plaintiffs to prove a premises liability case than just a general negligence case," said Salg. "Part of that is because our premises liability law has been subject to very thorough investigation by our courts … we have a lot of case law on this."
Should the theater be liable for death and injury? What responsibility do property owners have in these types of situations?
Heather Salg, a personal injury attorney at Harris, Karstaedt, Jamison & Powers, P.C. in Englewood, Colorado