Colorado Theater Shooting Lawsuits Against Cinemark Shouldn't Be Dismissed, Says Judge

A magistrate judge says more discovery is needed to ascertain theater owner's liability under Colorado law.
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The Colorado magistrate judge presiding over various lawsuits brought by victims of the shooting tragedy at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises has recommended to a District Court that the lawsuits be allowed to survive but only under a state law governing premises liability.

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The lawsuits come from those wounded in the July 20 shooting in Aurora, Colo., and from family members of those killed. Cinemark, owner of the theater where the shootings took place, is being sued to see whether it holds civil liability for not hiring more security, failing to have alarmed exit doors and other measures the plaintiffs believe could have mitigated 12 deaths and dozens of more injuries. James Holmes is being charged with the criminal act.

In response to the suits, Cinemark has asserted that what happened was not "foreseeable" and that the "fault here lies entirely with the killer."

On Thursday, Judge Michael Hegarty gave his own assessment.

The plaintiffs brought various tort claims in their lawsuits, but Cinemark asserted that only the Colorado Premises Liability Act -- a state law on the liability of a landowner for injuries on premises -- applied.

Hegarty agreed that plaintiffs' claims for negligence and wrongful death should fail because they were abrogated by the CPLA.

Cinemark also challenged whether the plaintiffs had stated a plausible claim for relief under the CPLA since what happened that night wasn't foreseeable.

The plaintiffs argued that Cinemark should have known about previous danger and criminal activity at the theater and the conditions of its premises -- e.g. the unlocked and unmonitored exit door and the lack of security personnel.

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Hegarty ruled that it's premature to dismiss the case without more discovery.

"The extent of Defendant's knowledge in this case has yet to be explored," he wrote. "Discovery may reveal that other more serious crimes had occurred at or near the theater and that Defendant had knowledge of such crimes. Further, as the Court noted at the hearing, discovery might show that Defendant had knowledge of and/or concern for the numerous mass shootings that had taken place in the United States in recent times. As the CPLA demonstrates, Defendant, a landowner, has a higher duty of care to its patrons, or 'invitees', and the extent of its knowledge of such duty should be explored."

The judge has recommended that the District Court deny Cinemark's motion to dismiss claims under the CPLA.

Here's the full ruling.

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