Miami Music Week: Crowd Control and Injury Considerations
This week marks the long-awaited return of Miami Music Week (March 22-27, 2022). The world-renowned week-long event fell victim to cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, electronic music fans rejoice in anticipation as hundreds of thousands descend on Miami as the city transforms itself into a “dance music paradise.” The week concludes with Ultra Music Festival, an award-winning event attended by 165,000 fans representing over 90 countries.
As with any large event—concerts, sporting events, festivals, religious observances, and even holiday shopping—the risk of crowd surges are imminent. A crowd surge is simply a large group of people moving quickly, unexpectedly, and often dangerously with respect to people caught in the crowd. Although crowd surges are sometimes colloquially described as “stampedes,” there are few incidents of people being trampled to death in a panic. Rather, the danger in a crowd surge stems from the inability to move or breathe. Event organizers, promoters, and performers are responsible for maintaining a safe environment at an event. When that responsibility is not met, people harmed in a crowd surge may have legal recourse.
What are crowd surges?
Improper crowd control can result in devastating injuries and deaths. A history of injuries and deaths at large events makes it crucial for event organizers and property owners to plan and execute an adequate strategy for crowd control. If an appropriate plan to manage crowds and avoid harm is in place, injuries and casualties may be prevented. Unfortunately, event organizers and property owners sometimes fail to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries.
Most notably in recent history, a deadly crowd surge during rapper Travis Scott’s performance at the Astroworld Festival caused at least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries. Over 300 people were treated for injuries at a field hospital set up near the event, with dozens being transferred to Houston-area hospitals, at least 11 of whom experienced cardiac arrest.
How does this happen?
As common-sense dictates, a large crowd does not just start moving all in one direction on its own accord; there usually must be a trigger. A crowd may run for cover due to inclement weather; from a real or perceived threat, such as false reports of a shooting (see Miami’s 2019 Rolling Loud festival); or, in other cases, the crowd may move toward something, such as a performer on stage.
That said, in a crowd surge, bodies compress against other bodies, pushing forward and backward. In some situations, people at the front of the crowd are pressed against a barrier or stage. In others, people in the middle are squeezed between the rear of the crowd pressing forward and people from the front trying to escape. If people have fallen and caused a pileup, there can even be pressure from above as well. This can lead to “compressive asphyxia”–the inability to breathe because of being squeezed—which can be fatal. Survivors talk about pressure on their back, chest, and sides that makes breathing difficult.
The single biggest contributing factor in crowd surges is crowd density, not just crowd size. When people are packed closely together—the danger begins at about four people per square meter—there is always the potential for a crowd surge. Event promoters often contribute to crowd surges through “festival seating,” a first-come, first-serve approach to ticketing that packs people in, shoulder-to-shoulder, with just two square feet of room per person.
The crowd’s overall level of energy and excitement also plays a role. In the case of the Astroworld Festival, the risk of a surge may have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: the 2020 festival had been canceled, and live events, in general, had been severely curtailed, so there was dramatically increased anticipation for the 2021 event. (South Floridians should especially keep this factor in mind, considering Ultra’s back-to-back cancellations prior to this year’s event.)
Liable parties in a crowd surge scenario may be held accountable for their negligence. To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove the following four elements: (1) duty, (2) breach, (3) causation, and (4) damages.
Potentially liable parties in a crowd surge scenario include:
- A performer who did something to incite or rile up the crowd, or explicitly encouraged the crowd to move toward the stage.
- The venue where the event took place.
- The organizers and promoters of the event.
- Third parties that were contracted to provide services at the event, such as security companies.
- Local government.
If injured in a crowd surge, it may be appropriate to file a premises liability lawsuit. Premises liability law requires property owners to take reasonable steps to keep visitors from danger. Property owners are required to fix any dangerous property conditions or issue appropriate warnings. When organizers and property owners know or should know about dangerous property conditions that give rise to crowd control issues that cause injuries, they may be held accountable for damages in a civil suit.
In some cases, defective equipment is the reason for a crowd control problem that causes injuries. When, for instance, defective equipment is used for security purposes, it may be proper to bring a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
Countering a Defendant’s Defenses
There are various defenses that may be raised, and it is crucial to retain lawyers who understand how to successfully establish your case so that you can recover damages. One defense that is commonly raised by defendants is comparative negligence. This defense may be raised if it seems you may have been partly to blame for an accident. Your damages can be reduced by an amount equal to your percentage of fault.
In other situations, defendants may assert an “assumption of the risk” defense. This defense may be allowed when a plaintiff has voluntarily assumed a risk that could be ascertained and is directly connected to the activities in question.
The type and extent of losses you may recover depend on the severity of your injuries. They can include economic and noneconomic losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, out-of-pocket costs, pain and suffering, and mental anguish, among others. If your loved one has died as the result of negligent crowd control, you may be able to recover wrongful death damages.
The cost of an injury sustained in a crowd surge can be significant. Victims who sustain “crush” injuries or cardiac arrest may have a lengthy recovery period, with significant medical expenses and lost earnings. Permanent injuries, such as traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, can also occur in crowd surge situations. Beyond the physical damage, being caught in a crowd surge is an intensely traumatic event, and victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental injuries as a result.
It’s also significant to note that crowd surge victims at events like concerts are often quite young—some of the Astroworld victims were children and teenagers—and have many decades of life ahead of them. Their long-term losses from a permanent injury, whether physical or mental, can easily stretch into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
In the chaotic aftermath of a crowd surge event, victims and their families need legal representation to explore their options. An experienced personal injury attorney can conduct an independent, in-depth investigation focused on finding out exactly why a person was injured and who was responsible. (In contrast, investigations carried out by law enforcement are primarily focused on criminal liability and preventing future incidents.)
If you or a loved one was injured due to negligent planning or implementation of crowd control measures, Miller Trial Law can help you. Please call us today at (305) 697-8312 for a free, no-risk consultation. We look forward to serving you!