Cinemark’s Security The Central Question In Aurora Theater Shooting Civil Trial

May 16, 2016

A civil trial is now underway questioning whether the Aurora movie theater bears any liability for the mass shooting where James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. The plaintiffs argue Cinemark failed to provide armed guards and other security measures that would have prevented the July 2012 attack at a midnight showing of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises.

The trial, which began May 9 with jury selection, is expected to last three weeks and differs from the lengthy criminal trial in which James Holmes was convicted and sentenced in 2015.

"A civil case seeks monetary damages for injuries done," said Scott Robinson, a Denver-based trial lawyer and legal analyst. "Since the primary perpetrator, James Holmes, is not someone who can pay a judgment in dollar damages, plaintiffs have looked around to find what we call in the business a 'deep pocket.' That doesn’t mean there isn’t any validity to the plaintiffs' case, but the reality is that the primary wrongdoer is in prison. And the argument here is that Cinemark, the defendant, made possible the mass shooting by being negligent in the way it operated its movie theaters."

Key Questions On The Aurora Theater Shooting Civil Trial

Did Cinemark or other national theater chains make any changes to their security in the wake of the 2012 shooting?

"There has been very little change in the security at theaters. Many theaters are now telling patrons to look around them, to find the nearest exit, as though you’re on an airplane -- which is probably a good thing. But we have yet to see metal detectors, those which have popped up for example in Major League baseball and in professional sports such as football. We have yet to see people being wanded going into theaters. One would hope that employees of the theaters have been educated that if they see someone bringing in something bulky under a shirt, they’re not going to worry about outside food, they’re going to worry about a weapon."

The six-month criminal trial was difficult for victims and even for people who weren’t directly involved. Is the civil trial expected to be easier, from a psychological standpoint?

"I think it’s going to vary from victim and survivor to victim and survivor. One aspect of the civil trial is that it has been bifurcated, that is, one jury will hear the liability issues - that’s the trial that’s going on now. Depending on how the liability trial comes out, there may later be a trial on damages with a separate jury. What that means is there won’t be any of the really heart-wrenching, horrendous testimony about the injuries suffered by the multiple, multiple victims of the shooting incident. The focus here is entirely on security and security alone."

If the case is decided in favor of the plaintiffs, would there be an impact on movie theaters?

"Woe-sayers are predicting that the cost of theater tickets will skyrocket if movie theaters are forced to provide security measures for their patrons. History has shown otherwise. People will still attend movies.They may have to pay a dollar or two more a ticket -- but it won’t drive the movie theater business out of business."