Dark Knight Rises: First Lawsuit Filed Against Theater

Negligence Lawsuit Over Dark Knight Shooting

A Colorado man has announced through his attorney his plans to file a negligence lawsuit against the Century 16 theater in Auroa, Colorado where the shooting massacre occurred during the premier of the Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman installment produced by Warner Bros. Torrence Brown Jr., who survived the shooting but was traumatized over witnessing the death of a friend who was with him, also plans to name Warner Bros studio, and the doctor whose treatment murder suspect James Holmes was under when he walked in through a propped open exit door of the theater, armed for a military grade assault.

In today's climate where so many Americans are made to believe the civil justice system is broken already and inundated with frivolous lawsuits, this high profile claim is sure to add fuel to the fire and produce more calls for Tort Reform! There is, however, a large and growing group of plaintiff personal injury attorneys who are starting to exert pressure from within, in an attempt to discourage lawyers from taking cases like the Dark Knight shooting case. More personal injury lawyers are starting to understand the impact that a high profile case like this has on public perception which is already strained and a public which suspects a large number of injury cases are frivolous. To many practicing attorneys, whether the public perceives that a lawsuit is outrageously meritless matters, in the big picture, in the tort reform picture, even if technically there is a viable legal basis to support the negligence claim.

On the other hand, there's another camp of personal injury and wrongful death lawyers who have a different point of view. They feel very hesitant to bow to pressure from what they believe is a manufactured crisis. They argue adamantly that the "frivolous lawsuit" problem is not a problem at all. It's a systematic and very effective effort by corporate bean counters to insulate themselves from accountability, more accurately, the financial costs of accountability. This group of injury lawyers worry that declining a negligence case solely because, at first glance, the case merits are difficult to discern by a suspicious public, is giving up precious ground in the trench warfare of tort reform. It's a dangerous concession. For instance, the first lawsuits against tobacco companies produced loud cries of Foul! by many who were convinced that smokers should bear 100% of the blame for their smoking related diseases. Later, facts emerged that raised serious questions about the tobacco companies' manipulation of addictive nicotine additives, and dubious marketing practices expressly designed to hook smokers when they were young. Today, most rational people will admit that tobacco companies' conduct is, at the very least, a valid subject of scrutiny.

It's not possible to know what evidence may emerge to support Mr. Brown's negligence claims in the Dark Knight shooting case. The responsible, rational course is to suspend judgment until the evidence is in. But suspending judgment until the facts are known is not our forte. Frankly, it's what tort reformers count on. While the Dark Knight shooting case is not a negligence case I would personally take - for many reasons, some of them related to public perception - the filing of such a case is nontheless not persuasive evidence that the civil justice system is broken. Evidence may exist to support the argument that the theater had a responsibility to keep its patrons safe. Imagine that the theater manager received a phone call an hour before the shooting warning him that Holmes was planning the attack and that he planned to prop open the back exit door and re-enter with weapons. Would this establish that the theater bears some responsibility? Imagine that Holmes told his doctor exactly what he was planning a week before the shooting? Would this impose a duty on the doctor to warn authorities if he believed Holmes was serious?

There is no doubt that personal injury lawyers who pursue negligence lawsuits and wrongful death cases do have a public perception problem. Perhaps a more selective approach to accepting cases would help in the long run. But the real challenge is for all of us to make more of an effort to gather all the the available facts, about ballot measures, global warming, policy issues, tort reform, and the Dark Knight shooting cases, before we decide conclusively the thing is good or bad, right or wrong, one way or the other.