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What Are the Challenges to Determining Liability for Music Festival Accidents?

With its desirable location and excellent weather, California is frequently home to music festivals. Accidents resulting in injury or fatality at such events can result in significant legal liability for festival organizers. Determining liability in such cases, however, can prove challenging, as multiple parties are often responsible for overseeing the festivals, explains a California personal injury lawyer


One recent case in West Virginia highlighted the complex legal issues that can arise when something goes wrong at a music festival. The case involved the death of 20-year-old Nicole Miller. She died as a result of a pickup truck sliding down a steep hill and plowing into the tent where she and her friends were sleeping. 


Miller’s father took legal action against a number of parties. The landowner where the music festival took place was originally named as a defendant, as was the driver of the pickup truck and several parking and security companies. In May 2012, Nicole's father also requested the court’s permission to refile and add another defendant: Tobin Productions and James Tobin. Walther Productions (another defendant) had hired Tobin Productions to do the on-site management of the music festival. 


According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, an employee of Tobin Productions had been warned prior to the accident that the parking and camping situation was dangerous. 


Despite this apparent warning, it appears that the Tobin Productions employee did not take action to correct the hazard or danger that had been created. Further, it appears that none of the parking companies, security companies or organizers took corrective action. Worse, allegations in the plaintiff's lawsuit indicate that Miller and her friends and the driver of the truck had been instructed on where to place their tent and truck, respectively.  


Whatever party or parties were in control of the event had a duty to attendees to make sure that the premises was safe and that attendees were protected from or warned of any dangers or risks that existed.  Further, the persons who were working at the festival had a duty not to create dangerous situations and put their patrons in those situations. 


If one or more of the potential defendants instructed the driver to park on the hill or the girls to sleep below it, that defendant may have been negligent as a result of these actions. Likewise, any company or entity responsible for maintaining or operating the premises could be held responsible for failure to ensure the premises was safe and/or for ignoring or not responding to the warnings that parking on the slope was dangerous. 


If any employees of the parking company, the security company, Tobin Productions or other responsible entity was negligent, the company who employed that person can also be held responsible through a legal rule called vicarious liability. This rule says that principles (employers) are responsible for acts of their agents (employees) if those employees are acting within the scope of their employment. The employee of Tobin Productions, for example, was acting within the scope of his employment when he worked at the music festival, therefore his negligence is imputed to his employer and it is as if the production company itself was negligent.  This is why the principal of the company, James Tobin, is also named as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit even though he wasn't at the festival. 


The problem, however, is determining who, if anyone, was responsible for Miller’s death. Because each defendant is pointing his or her finger at the others, it is difficult to know who had responsibility for ensuring the safety of guests at the festival and who should have been aware of the parking situation and was thus negligent in failing to correct it. This case, thus, underscores the importance of a clear delineation of duties among parties conducting a music festival. 


The courts will be left to sort out the multiple lawsuits in this case by determining which defendant’s negligence caused or contributed to the accident. The likely result is that multiple defendants who had control over the situation and who failed to act to ensure the safety of festival patrons will be held liable for the death that occurred. 


Additional information on this and other civil law subjects is available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.


If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California personal injury attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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