National attention has been focused on James Holmes, the gunman who went on a shooting rampage in a crowded movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 58. This focus will intensify when his trial begins. In the meantime, some of the injured and the families who lost loved ones have brought civil lawsuits against Cinemark, the company that owns and operates the Aurora Theater where the shooting took place.
The plaintiffs argue that Cinemark did not provide adequate security and this oversight contributed to the horrific event. Under the Colorado Premises Liability Act, property owners who invite patrons onto their premises are expected to take all reasonable measures to prevent accidents and protect their safety. Property owners and managers are responsible for keeping the physical environment free of hazards, but they also must safeguard patrons against the possibility of physical attack. For instance, the failure to provide adequate lighting in a secluded parking lot might be judged as negligent if a patron is beaten up and mugged in that space.
The Aurora lawsuits have raised social and legal controversies. Some of the initial lawsuits were dismissed while others have been allowed to proceed to trial, including several wrongful death claims. This is the kind of case that tests the limits of how premises liability can be interpreted and the results should establish an important legal precedent.
Many people do not realize that premises liability law includes having reasonable security measures in place. No property owner can guarantee 100 percent safety for all visitees, but ignoring obvious hazards is not acceptable.