FRIDAY UPDATE: Cinemark appears to be feeling the sting of bad press, with 9NEWS updating last night on the company at least starting to back off–with caveats, of course:
The victims of the Aurora theater shooting have been given an ultimatum: They will not have to pay the nearly $700,000 in court costs they owe the nation’s third largest theater chain if they drop their appeals in a civil case…
Among the people who sued Cinemark and now may have to pay thousands of dollars are the families of Alex Teves and Jessica Ghawi, who died in the movie theater. Yousef Gharbi, who survived a bullet wound to the head and Farrah Soudani, whose friends had to hold her insides in after she was shot, also owe the theater money.
…9NEWS Legal Expert Scott Robinson told 9NEWS back in June that he believes Cinemark asked the victims to repay court costs “to discourage future lawsuits against their chain for personal injuries.”
“The question is, how big is going to be the backlash that the public chooses to impose on what appears to be a corporate bully?” Robinson said.
Aurora shooting memorial, July 2012.
Salon reports on yet more insult piled on injury for survivors of the 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater–after the family of shooting victim Jessica Ghawi was ordered to pay the legal fees of online gun and body armor dealers after unsuccessfully suing them for damages, more victims are on the hook for massive amounts of money to corporations who, it can be reasonably argued, need it a lot less:
In 2012, 12 people were killed and at least 70 others were wounded when James Holmes walked into the Cinemark’s Aurora Century 16 theater and opened fire.
While Holmes was found guilty in 2015, a group of survivors filed a state lawsuit against Cinemark in 2012, claiming lax security allowed the heavily-armed Holmes to enter the theater and carry out the shooting. Ultimately, a jury of six sided with Cinemark in the civil case in state court, finding that there was no way they could have foreseen the attack and that additional security would have done little to stop Holmes, who was wearing body armor and was armed with gas canisters and multiple firearms.”
A judge at the same time also dismissed a similar lawsuit in federal court, saying Cinemark’s lack of security was not a substantial factor in the deaths.
Colorado law allows the winning side of civil cases to seek costs. [Pols emphasis] According to the Los Angeles Times, Cinemark’s lawyers at the time told a judge the money was needed to cover the costs of preserving evidence, retrieving and copying records, travel and other expenses – including $500,000 for expert testimony.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, survivors are now on the hook for some $700,000 in court costs largely because a few survivors refused a settlement offer from Cinemark:
“It was the 12th hour, we were all feeling the same way. We all knew they were liable. We knew they were at fault,” Weaver said. “[The settlement] was a slap in the face. But I said, ‘Let’s go for it because it’s better than nothing.’”
The deal came with an implied threat: If the survivors rejected the deal, moved forward with their case and lost, under Colorado law, they would be responsible for the astronomical court fees accumulated by Cinemark… [Pols emphasis]
Then one plaintiff rejected the deal. Her suffering had been profound: Her child was killed in the shooting, she was left paralyzed and the baby she was carrying had been lost.
The settlement offered by Cinemark’s lawyers was for $30,000 to each of the three most severely injured plaintiffs, with the remaining 38 splitting up a paltry $60,000 between them. It’s not for us to judge whether this monetary settlement should be considered appropriate given Cinemark’s alleged liability, or whether the wounded plaintiff who lost her unborn child was justified in rejecting the deal.
What we can say is that these victims should not be paying Cinemark. We understand that Colorado law as it stands today is intended to protect defendants in civil suits by forcing plaintiffs to consider the consequences of frivolous lawsuits. In this case, however, much like the suit by Jessica Ghawi’s parents against online weapons dealers, it was not a frivolous suit–certainly not when you realize that Cinemark was about to settle.
Today it’s being reported that the plaintiffs are appealing the order to pay Cinemark $700,000 in “reasonable” court costs. We hope that this situation is resolved in a way that doesn’t cause further harm to victims and survivors of the Aurora shooting. Looking ahead, a legislative revisiting of this unfortunate situation seems called for.
This is not an outcome for anyone to celebrate.