Who Will Be Held Responsible for the Astroworld Disaster?

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Examining the legal cases against Travis Scott, Drake, Live Nation, and other parties sued over the deaths at the Houston festival

A street sign showing the cancellation of the AstroWorld Festival
Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

The assignment of legal responsibility for the 10 deaths and scores of injuries that resulted when a densely packed crowd surged the stage during Travis Scott’s headlining set at his Astroworld festival in Houston on November 5 will not happen simply or quickly. In the week since the tragedy, at least 80 civil lawsuits have been filed in Harris County District Court, with defendants including Live Nation and a local promoter, festival location NRG Park and the county government body involved with managing it, a security contractor, a management company, Travis Scott himself, and Drake, who joined Scott onstage. The results will depend in large part on evidence turned up in investigations that are still ongoing. (Houston police have also opened a criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed yet.)

Still, it’s possible to make educated guesses about the breakdowns that may have contributed to the festival’s deadly turn, and the ways that the courts may assign culpability for them, based on the voluminous information and documentation that has turned up in news reporting and on social media, as well as the precedents of past lawsuits over concert injuries and deaths. Pitchfork spoke with several experts in live entertainment law, whose assessments of the situation are varied on one key point: Did the Astroworld fiasco result from failures of planning, security, and performer responsibility that were unique to this festival in particular, or were they a consequence of broader issues in the way festivals are operated in general?

Wherever they stand on that question, the experts agree that major judgements against the defendants in the Astroworld suits could leave lasting marks on the festival industry. Below, we take a look at the potential culpability of a few key parties.

Travis Scott and Drake

As the founder and public face of Astroworld and the person who was performing during the crowd surge, Travis Scott has already been named as a defendant in multiple lawsuits. Performers don’t always face liability for deaths and injuries at their concerts, according to Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney who represents 17 people who were injured after a railing collapse at a 2016 Snoop Dogg concert in Camden, New Jersey. In that case, Mongeluzzi said, a jurisdiction issue prevented the plaintiffs from holding the rapper liable. But the multitude of Travis Scott suits could be different. Artist liability “is going to be front and center in this litigation,” Mongeluzzi said.

One issue Scott is likely to face is the history of unruly behavior from crowds at his concerts. A suit from Manuel Souza, an Astroworld attendee who claims he was trampled and sustained serious injuries at the festival, alleges “express encouragement of violence” from Scott at several past performances, including performances in 2015 and 2017 that resulted in his arrest for disorderly conduct and inciting a riot, respectively. At another 2017 concert, a fan was partially paralyzed after he was allegedly pushed from a balcony at New York City’s Terminal 5. In a video from the same concert, Scott can be heard saying “They gonna catch you, don’t be scared” from the stage before a different fan drops from the balcony to the crowd below.

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