MGM Resorts International’s decision to file lawsuits against the victims of last year’s Las Vegas shooting is without legal precedent and could be on shaky ground, according to several attorneys quizzed by the Law.com website this week.
MGM is not seeking money from the victims but is looking to absolve itself from liability by moving litigation from local to federal courts and claiming an obscure federal terrorism law protects it against claims for damages.
The casino and entertainment giant owns the Mandalay Bay — from which shooter Stephen Paddock fired indiscriminately on a crowd at a country music festival below — and the site where the country music event was held. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 800 injured in the worst mass shooting in recent US history.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Tuesday that MGM had sued “over 1,000” people who were injured or who had lost loved ones in the massacre. But according to Law.com, the actual figure is closer to 2,500, with lawsuits filed in federal courts in Nevada, California, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, New York, Texas, and Utah.
Social media has been having its say on the lawsuits, and the hashtag #boycottMGM has been trending on Twitter, but on Thursday, it was the legal community’s turn to react.
Law.com reports that many lawyers were “stunned” by the situation. “They’re trying to create a federal case where there’s no federal case,” said one. Breaking with longstanding legal tradition, some even brought up the ethical dimension.
Meanwhile, Dismas Locaria, a partner at Venable in Washington, D.C., noted that MGM’s defense and its citation of the Safety Act was unprecedented.
As far as I know, this is the very first time the Safety Act has been tested,” he said. “It’s definitely gotten a lot of people’s attention in my industry. We’re actively watching what happens here. But it’s all new ground, candidly.”
The Safety Act is a post 9/11 law that offers liability protection to a company that uses anti-terrorism services or technology to “help prevent and respond to mass violence.” The security firm MGM hired for the country music festival was approved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
No Terror Designation
But to Robert Eglet, who is representing some of the victims, MGM is abusing the spirit of the law.
“The act was a response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, to encourage companies to get into the business of developing anti-terrorism technology,” he wrote in response to MGM’s motion to dismiss his clients’ case in Nevada. “It was not designed to limit the liability of a hotel that, despite prior incidents, affirmatively assisted a gunman to shoot out of its window at people below.”
Locaria believes that for MGM’s defense to succeed the Las Vegas shooting would have to be designated an act of terrorism by the DHS — and it hasn’t been.
“I’m not certain how they’re going to get over that hurdle,” he said. “I’m a little confused by that myself.”