After losing a lawsuit in federal court, four survivors of the horrific mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado must pay Cinemark, the company that owns the theater, at least $700,000. In June, when the suit was thrown out, Cinemark filed a demand that the plaintiffs pay the company’s litigation costs.
The shooting, perpetrated by James Holmes during a 2012 screening of
The Dark Knight Rises, killed 12 and wounded 70. Survivors of the attack and family members of the dead said they wanted to press Cinemark on whether they could have prevented the attack with better security, thus setting a higher standard for movie theaters across the United States.
Cinemark’s lawyers argued that the theater couldn’t have prevented the attack and that Holmes, who’s now serving multiple life sentences, was solely responsible. Both cases ended with absolutely zero legal liability for the theater, no visible policy changes, and a dizzying legal bill: in the state case, Cinemark filed a “bill of costs” for $699,187.13 in Arapahoe County District Court at the end of June.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times explained how the federal case crumbled and how the few remaining plaintiffs were left responsible for the astronomical legal fees of the other side. The case started to unravel in May when a separate group of 27 Aurora shooting survivors and family members lost their case in state court. A jury ruled Cinemark wasn’t liable for the attack. It was obvious that the other suit, originally filed in federal court by 42 survivors, would likely go the same way.
The judge in the case, District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, gave both sides 24 hours to come to a settlement agreement. According to the L.A. Times, who spoke to four people privy to the confidential negotiations, the theater and the victims came very, very close to a settlement, to the point where Cinemark had even drafted a press release to send out.
But at the eleventh hour, one woman decided she couldn’t take the deal. From the Times:
They decided on a split of $30,000 each to the three most critically injured survivors. The remaining 38 plaintiffs would equally share the remaining $60,000.
Attorneys with Cinemark drafted a news release to distribute the next day.
Then one plaintiff rejected the deal. Her suffering had been profound: Her child was killed in the shooting, she was left paralyzed and the baby she was carrying had been lost.
Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the shoulder during the attack and watched his friend Rebecca Wingo die at his feet, told the paper he knew then that the case had crumbled:
Weaver’s vision briefly blurred. The eight hours they had spent negotiating the deal, the weeks of the failed state court trial, the four years of anger at the theater since the shooting — all of it was for nothing.
“It was done then,” Weaver said.
He removed himself as a plaintiff immediately. So did 36 other people. Four plaintiffs remained on the case the next day, June 24, when Jackson handed down the order that Cinemark was not liable for the damages.
The costs in state court were close to $700,000, but the Times reports that the federal costs, for which those four people are now responsible, are expected to be much more.