Updated August 18, 2023
On November 5, 2021, over 50,000 fans headed to the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park in Houston for what should have been a great night of live music after nearly two years of COVID restrictions. Instead, 10 people died— including a nine-year-old child—and thousands more were injured when the crowd surged forward as Travis Scott took the stage.
According to the Associated Press (AP), over 500 lawsuits have been filed against the organizers and promoters of the festival, all begging the core question: Were the injuries and deaths at the Astroworld festival a tragic accident or a predictable and preventable catastrophe?
Scores of victims of the Astroworld disaster (the plaintiffs) are suing Scott and companies tied to the event (the defendants) in Harris County, Texas.
At the request of attorneys from both sides, all of the pending Astroworld lawsuits were consolidated into "multidistrict litigation" (MDL). One judge will oversee the before-trial logistics for all of the lawsuits. Some cases may then go to trial, one at a time. In March 2022, state District Judge Kristen Hawkins, who was appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to handle the consolidated lawsuits (In re Astroworld Litigation), issued a gag order, saying she doesn't want attorneys to make their cases in the court of public opinion and improperly influence the jury pool.
Consolidation like this is common in cases involving similar harms suffered by large numbers of plaintiffs. For example, asbestos litigation and other product liability lawsuits are often consolidated into MDL. The goal of consolidation is to encourage the parties to settle their cases and save resources.
We probably won't know the outcome of the hundreds of Astroworld lawsuits for years. And, fortunately, mass casualty events at concerts and other events are rare. But after the chaos at Astroworld, people are asking, "Who is responsible for crowd safety at concerts, sports events, and other large gatherings?" "Do audiences attend at their own risk, or do event organizers have a duty to keep them safe?"
Lawyers representing injured concertgoers tend to sue a lot of people and entities related to the event, including:
Other potential defendants might be public relations firms, record labels, utility companies (for example, after a fire at a venue), and streaming services that broadcast concerts.
The Astroworld tragedy is an example of one type of risk that concertgoers face: inadequate crowd control. Prior to Astroworld, one of the deadliest crowd-control disasters at a concert in the United States was the 1979 crush outside the doors of a Cincinnati show by The Who, which killed 11 people.
Examples of other hazards fans might face at live music events include:
The fact that you were injured at a concert doesn't automatically mean that the artist headlining the festival was negligent. For example, if you slipped on the floor of the bathroom at a Wilco concert and broke your leg, that doesn't mean the lead singer was negligent. But the venue owners might be considered liable (responsible) if they knew or should have known that the floor was unreasonably slippery (and didn't fix the problem).
Let's take a closer look at the different theories of liability in the Astroworld lawsuits and concert injury cases like it.
To prove negligence, plaintiffs have to show that another person or corporation owed them a duty of care in the situation that led to the injury. Plaintiffs in the Astroworld lawsuits claim that Scott and other defendants had a duty of care to ensure a safe concert.
Plaintiffs also have to show that the defendants violated (or "breached") the standard of care that they owed. The Astroworld plaintiffs allege that defendants failed to, among other things:
Astroworld victims might argue that the defendants were clearly negligent because they:
In general and in the Astroworld cases, plaintiffs must also prove that what the defendants did (or didn't do) actually caused the plaintiffs' harm. They also have to show exactly what that harm was—for example, broken limbs and severe emotional distress.
Learn more about personal injury damages.
The Astroworld plaintiffs aren't just saying that Travis Scott and others were negligent. They are alleging that the defendants were grossly negligent. Gross negligence is a more extreme form of ordinary negligence. It goes beyond carelessness to include reckless, unreasonable, or even willful (intentional) misconduct.
Proving gross negligence typically increases the amount of money plaintiffs get from defendants (damages), and might even allow plaintiffs to collect additional, punitive damages. Punitive damages are supposed to punish defendants for outrageous behavior rather than compensate plaintiffs for their losses.
Special rules that are part of a legal theory called "premises liability" come into play in personal injury cases where the injury was caused by an unsafe condition on someone's property. In the Astroworld tragedy, plaintiffs are suing the owners of NRG Park, where the festival took place, under a premises liability theory.
Property owners, including concert venue owners, typically have a duty to exercise reasonable care in how they own and maintain the property in order to keep people who enter it safe. Premises liability typically comes down to whether the unsafe condition was foreseeable (relatively predictable). After that, the question is whether the precautions taken by the property owners were a good-enough protection against the risk.
Obviously, concert venues can't ensure the absolute safety of all guests. But some injuries are preventable. And some legal scholars argue that venue owners should be required to provide barriers like the plexiglass screening that surrounds hockey rinks or the nets behind home plate at a baseball stadium. (Learn more about liability for injury at a stadium or sports facility.)
In press releases and legal filings, the Astroworld defendants are laying the groundwork for their defenses to the hundreds of lawsuits they face.
In December 2021, in his first interview since the Astroworld tragedy, Scott denied knowing that concertgoers were getting hurt. He emphasized that he stopped the show a couple of times during his performance to make sure everybody was okay. Plaintiffs will surely try to counter with Scott's checkered history of riling up crowds (see above).
Defendants in concert injury cases typically try to shift blame to the injured plaintiffs (or point the finger at each other). For example, Astroworld defendants might argue that some concertgoers jumped over barricades and security gates. Others were aggressive and drunk or high on drugs. Texas follows a modified "comparative negligence" rule. If plaintiffs are partially to blame for the accident that caused their injuries, the compensation they receive is reduced or potentially barred altogether.
Defendants facing personal injury lawsuits related to concerts (and other activities like sporting events and paintball-style games) often argue that the injured person "assumed the risk" of getting injured by agreeing to participate in an activity that they knew was potentially dangerous. Some concert tickets include an "express assumption of risk" waiver that basically says you can't sue if you are injured at an event. But these express waivers often don't actually fully shield defendants from lawsuits.
Lawyers for the Astroworld plaintiffs are asking for billions of dollars in damages. The amount of money each victim might get will vary from case to case. Damages are typically based on:
Damages for the survivors of the young people who died at Astroworld would also include things like funeral expenses and, potentially, loss of consortium (loss of the intangible benefits—care, affection, nurturing—that a spouse or child provides the family).
Astroworld plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages (called "exemplary damages" in Texas), which are meant to punish defendants and deter similar conduct in the future.
Given the sheer number of plaintiffs, attorneys are predicting that Astroworld settlements and judgments could reach hundreds of millions—or billions—of dollars.
On December 22, 2021, Congress launched its own investigation into the deaths of the 10 young concertgoers.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to the president and chief executive of Live Nation. the organizer of the event, asking the company to provide details about security measures it planned for the festival. The letter asked written questions about how Live Nation prepared for the festival and responded to the crowd surge, including the precise time when promoters learned that authorities had declared the concert a "mass casualty event" and when the concert ended.