One year after the deadly disaster at Travis Scott‘s Astroworld festival on Nov. 5, 2021, event organizers and victims are still locked in extensive litigation over the tragedy, with hundreds of millions in potential damages at stake and no quick end in sight.
Beginning a few hours after the incidentmore than 4,900 alleged victims have filed lawsuits against Live Nation, Travis Scott and other festival organizers over the disaster at Astroworld, where a crowd during Scott’s headlining performance left 10 dead and hundreds physically injured.
Certainly claim that the organizers were legally negligent in how they planned and executed the event, including failing to provide adequate security and having inadequate emergency protocols in place. A case, filed by the family of a boy who died that nightclaimed that Live Nation and Scott had “grossly failed in their duty to protect the health, safety and lives of those in attendance.”
Together, the cases demand billions in compensation for the disaster. Even if a final settlement doesn’t come close to the total — and it probably won’t — the enormous potential penalties that result in such “mass tort” cases would serve as a stark reminder to those planning future music festivals.
“In business situations there is always pressure to cut costs, but you can’t cut in a way that ends up costing people life and limb,” says Mark Geistfeld, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert on such litigation. “The point of mass torts is that you need something out there to dampen the profit motive.”
“These cases can be a real wake-up call,” says Geistfeld. “Are we actually spending enough on security and things like that to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen?”
The lawsuits over Astroworld were all filed individually by the various victims, but they have stayed consolidated before a single judge in Texas as a “multidistrict litigation”—a standard procedure aimed at avoiding the inefficiency of individually litigating many cases that share important similarities.
Such a step not only helps to streamline case processing, but can also make it easier to reach a broad settlement with all victims, such as e.g. the $800 million deal which ended similar lawsuits over a 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert festival.
“Settlement is the way these cases almost always end,” he says Jay Tidmarsh, professor at Notre Dame Law School and expert in complex civil litigation. “They make sense because of the risk of loss on both sides as well as the cost of litigation.”
A year into the Astroworld case, sources close to the trial say Billboard that the parties are currently in the midst of what’s known as discovery — the arduous process during trials where each side turns over mountains of evidence to their opponents, like internal emails about how the event was planned. Requests for such information have been exchanged, and disagreements over what to disclose will be hammered out by the judge in the coming months.
The parties are also preparing to begin depositions, where lawyers from each side will take testimony from the various people in the case, potentially including the victims themselves, witnesses to the disaster, people involved in the planning and many others. Each side also fields their own “expert witnesses” – specialists and professionals who will offer dueling analyzes of what happened in Astroworld.
That work could still take well over another year, given the sheer scale of a case involving more than a dozen defendants and thousands of plaintiffs. But when discoveries and depositions are eventually concluded, the case will likely go one of two ways.
One is a quick settlement. Based on what is revealed during discovery, it may become clear to the promoters’ lawyers that they are facing a very strong case. Or plaintiffs may worry that their eventual damages payout may be limited, even after years of costly litigation.
“One way these cases are going is what’s called global peace — a big settlement that will cover all these claims,” says Geistfeld. “If the amount is right, it might just be better for both sides to go that route instead of going on a case-by-case basis.”
If the parties cannot reach such an agreement, they will continue to file a lawsuit. But they won’t just take all 4,900 cases to court. Instead, the trial is likely to proceed against what is known as “the clock” — a handful of lawsuits involving individual victims intended to serve as a representative slice of the broader case.
In bellwethers, the two sides will battle over the core issue in all the cases — whether the conduct of Live Nation, Scott or any of the other planners caused the injuries suffered by various concertgoers. As reported by Billboard last yearthe question will be whether the planners could have seen such a disaster coming and whether they then took the right steps to avoid it.
No matter how the early cases play out, experts say the case will still ultimately end in a settlement. But the outcome of the bellwethers will play a big role in deciding how that deal will ultimately be structured.
“What [bellwether trials] do is set a baseline for negotiation,” says Tidmarsh. “Say the plaintiffs lose almost all of the early cases, then the settlement value drops a lot. Say they win millions and the value goes up a lot.”