41 families of those killed and wounded in the July 20, 2012, massacre sued Cinemark, the company that owns the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, CO where James Holmes’ rampage took place. When they lost their case, they were informed that instead of getting paid they would be the ones paying.
The fees were ordered after victims and their families lost both state and federal lawsuits that claimed the Cinemark theater chain should have done more to prevent the attack. Under Colorado law, the prevailing party in civil suits are entitled to recover their litigation costs.
Cinemark argued that it could not have predicted the shooting and wouldn’t have been able to stop Holmes. Holmes opened fire inside Theater 9 of the Century Aurora 16 during a midnight showing of The Dark Night Rises on July 20th 2012, taking the lives of 12 people and leaving more than 70 others injured.
Cinemark attorney Kevin Taylor called it the first mass shooting at a theater ‘in the history of American cinema,’ arguing such shootings are still so rare that management could not have anticipated one at a theater with no history of serious violence.
The families claimed there was not enough security to stop the gunman from carrying out the shooting that night.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson warned the plaintiffs that he was prepared to hand down a ruling in Cinemark’s favor and urged them to accept Cinemark’s settlement offer. He again reminded them that if they rejected the settlement and lost, they could be liable for reimbursing Cinemark’s legal fees and costs.
Cinemark’s offer of $150,000 was to be split among 41 plaintiffs, with the three most critically injured to each receive $30,000. The remaining 38 would equally split the remaining $60,000.
“Either seek justice and go into debt, or take that pitiful offering of money and the improved public safety,” survivor Marcus Weaver said.
The victims initially agreed to take the $150,000 settlement, but then one plaintiff changed her mind at the last minute. She lost two children in the massacre, one of them unborn. She was also left paralyzed.
When settlement negotiations failed, 26 plaintiffs withdrew themselves from the case after the one refused the offer. By the time Judge Jackson handed down his ruling the following day, only 15 parties remained in the case.
Judge Jackson dismissed the class-action lawsuit, saying that Cinemark’s lack of security was not a substantial factor in the deaths.
“Mr. Holmes was completely unpredictable, unforeseeable, unpreventable and unstoppable,” Cinemark’s attorney told reporters after the verdict.
When they prevailed in June, Cinemark’s lawyers filed a “bill of costs” for $699,187.13 in Arapahoe County court. They say the money is needed to cover the costs of preserving evidence, retrieving and copying records, travel and other expenses, according to court documents. The theater chain spent $500,000 on experts to testify on its behalf.
According to court documents filed Wednesday, theater owner Cinemark and most of the victims who are plaintiffs in a state-court lawsuit against the company have struck a deal in which Cinemark will drop the cost request if the victims drop their appeal.
Ashley Moser, Stefan Moton, Joshua Nowlan and Nickelas Gallup — are the four plantiffs who remain in the lawsuit – together they are appealing Judge Jackson’s order.
Although a source close to the theater chain told the LA Times that there is no intention to actually seek recovery of the court costs, the theater chain has yet to issue a statement about its intentions.
Holmes, who pleaded innocent by reason of insanity at his murder trial, was found guilty last summer. He was sentenced to life in prison.
After months of meticulous planning, Holmes slipped into the auditorium, threw gas canisters into the crowd of more than 400 and then opened fire with a shotgun, assault rifle and semi-automatic pistol. He had also rigged his apartment with bombs.
Had Cinemark lost the case, it could have forced theater companies across the U.S. to adopt costly security measures that could have increased ticket prices significantly, experts said.