Like clockwork, the first round of lawsuits are now in the works concerning the Aurora shooting. The lawsuits were filed for Torrence Brown Jr., who was a member of the audience when James Holmes allegedly threw smoke canisters and open fired on the crowd during a late night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Brown was not injured from any gun play, but has claimed extreme trauma resulting from the experience and the loss of Alexander J. Boik, who Brown described as his best friend. Brown's attorney has leveled the lawsuits at three defendants, in regard to negligence: the Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo., a part of the Cinemark USA, Inc.; doctors involved in prescribing Holmes drugs; and Warner Bros., the studio that produced the new Batman trilogy.

While the idea of trauma from a shooting incident is not unlikely, it is a stretch to understand how the three entities involved are responsible for negligence.

Holmes claimed to have taken 100 mg of Vicodin two and a half hours before going to the theater, Vicodin that may or may not have been prescribed, according to an article in The Telegraph.

A patient misusing drugs is hardly the fault of the doctor, unless signs show the doctor to know of the abuse, which there is currently no sign of. And purchasing a drug on the street is not the fault of the doctor who initially prescribed it.

Alongside that, the content of Vicodin is generally something like 7.5mg of hydrocodone, while the remainder is acetaminophen/tylenol. 500 mg a few times a day is a fairly regular prescription for many patients, and a tolerance does build up over time.

If Holmes was a first-time user of Vicodin, the effects of the drug would hardly account for his actions at the theater, and the duration of the drug would already have dwindled to little if anything based on the amount of time between when he claims to have taken it and when the shooting began.

It has also been claimed Holmes was known to smoke marijuana. The claim Holmes had smoked marijuana before the shooting is, so far, merely an Internet rumor.

The closest to the inkling he used marijuana before the shooting was from an interview from a man who lived across the street from Holmes while talking to the New York Post. The man claimed to have seen "[Holmes] smoking weed behind the apartment" on various occasions.

Despite no proof of marijuana causing any violent behavior, ever, it will probably be included in the lawsuit because marijuana is frequently used as a scapegoat for causing criminal activities.

The theater itself is being blamed for not having alarms and guards at its exits, which is a ridiculous notion altogether.

Movie theater security levels have worked for years with few incidents, and the shooting is hardly an incident a movie theater can be prepared for if it wants to continue to offer films at a reasonable price. Ticket costs would soar higher than they irrationally are now, and theaters would shut down for lack of attendance.

An isolated incident such as Aurora is terrible but hardly reason to invest in overly expensive, highly intrusive and not entirely efficient TSA-style measures, no matter how freaked out folks feel.

And the icing on the cake for every paranoid parent out there comes with the potential for violence in the media. Warner Bros. is being attacked for making "The Dark Knight Rises" and the other Batman films as violent as they are.

Donald Karpel, the attorney in charge of the current lawsuits, claims theatergoers were helpless because they thought the shooter was part of the movie and that Holmes mimicked some of the action. In a TMZ interview Karpel said, "Somebody has to be responsible for the rampant violence that is shown today."

This is more of that panic arising unnecessarily from any and all violent events. Holmes hadn't seen the movie yet, and as such his actions weren't mimicking the movie.

If you can blame movies for the Aurora incident, then you can blame every incident of violence on media. That is absolutely ludicrous, considering most people who watch films are not involved in or partake of violence similar to the type viewed.

The only thing to blame for the violence in Aurora was James Holmes; not guns and certainly not movies. Politicians will rally to censor the world and try to shield us from reality, and that is their place to play up insecurities and misinformation shoved on the general public. But understand, it is nonsense being manipulated for political and financial purposes.

To add a possible lawsuits to ensue, Dr. Lynne Fenton, who specializes in schizophrenia and "threat assessment" at the University of Colorado where Holmes attended, is under scrutiny for negligence along with the university.

Holmes sent a notebook to her, allegedly filled with drawings and statements about his plans to murder people. The notebook apparently was not discovered until after the shooting.

In court documents filed July 27, defense lawyers alleged Holmes had been undergoing mental health treatment at the university. "A legal source said: ‘This is a significant development because it suggests Holmes sought treatment for a mental health issue and that his mental state was known to his university counselor. If negligence can be proved then the victims’ families could have a strong civil case against the university,’" according to an article in Mail Online.

Maybe there is a great faith placed in mental health evaluation by the majority of folks, but not noticing someone is a murderer without seeing them in the act or having the person admit to desires as such hardly makes the doctor at fault; perhaps inept and in need of re-evaluation for their certification, but not at fault for the actions of the murderer.

The university and those who had interacted with Holmes appear to have taken the proper line of action, as there is currently no evidence showing Holmes to have been actually planning to pursue violent actions.

And as to the notebook, well, it is unfortunate it was not brought to light in time to possibly prevent the incident. But again, this is not the fault of the doctor or the university for mail not arriving on time or being unopened for a day.

Hell, if you can blame the university, then stretch the lawsuit out to the postal delivery service. Was it the U.S. Postal Service? Then the whole of the American government is to blame for the shooting.

See how stupid things can become when you forget that correlation does not imply causation?

However, there is a lawsuit that makes sense to some for the shooting, and that is against Holmes. He planned to go in and murder people. But Holmes doesn't have the deep pockets of the University of Denver or Warner Bros. or Cinemark USA, Inc., or even the likely lawsuits someone will attempt against those in charge of making guns.

And so, the obnoxious lawsuits and political pandering begins, with some attempting to cash in on a tragedy, much as do vultures circling a downed animal.

(6) comments

Steve Chapman

For the most part, I understand and agree with what you're saying. Most of this is BS that would be solved by Loser Pays lawsuit reform, but there is one thing that I do think might be actionable.

If the theater has a policy of no weapons, including those people who have a conceal carry permit, then they are in effect saying you can't/don't need to defend yourself here because we are responsible for your safety. That might make them somewhat responsible for the safety of the patrons in the eyes of the law.

It's unlikely that someone with a CCP weapon would have done anything but try to get out of there as fast as they can but you never know. A cornered or injured CCP holder might have reduced the number hurt & killed as well as eliminated the costly expense of a trial.

Jake Pierson

Steve I like your thinking. I don't agree the theater carries any responsbility but your point is interesting. So I thought about it and remebered theaters require you to turn off cell phones. Does that mean they are in effect saying you don't need a communications device because they are taking care of all your communications needs? What happens if a missed phone call results is a substancial monetary loss that could have been avoided if you had been able to answer your phone? Can the movie goer sue the theater for not providing adequate communications during the movie to avoid the loss?

I know it sounds bit absurd. But so does a person going into a theater and shutting it up for apperantly no reason.

Jake: The phones to silent thing in theaters cannot be looked at for lawsuits because you are choosing to go to the location, and when at a location you do not have to be you can choose to follow the rules or be asked to leave. Being relatively quiet during a film is a courtesy. Other patrons don't care what you have going on in your life and paid to see the movie. As such audience silence isn't for "no reason" but to maintain the ability to enjoy the movie for others, which is business practice. You can keep your phone on vibrate, and then get up and leave for the hallway if you get a call. And if an emergence comes up where you have to leave, every theater out there will refund your ticket or give you a free movie pass.

Steve: Having a sign that you cannot bring in firearms doesn't mean "you can't/don't need to defend yourself here because we are responsible for your safety." If a business has a "no guns" sign and does not attempt to disarm customers, the business is liable for maintaining the security of the premises. Note that violence of that sort only applies to gun violence. On the flip side, if the business makes it clear customers might be armed, then the liability is gone.

In the situation of the theater, Cinemark has a policy of no guns on the premises unless carried by a law enforcement official. From what I understand of the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, it is a part of the Town Center at Aurora and under the purview of the same security guards. As such, the location is considered protected, so the "no guns" rule will likely not carry. I do imagine that security will hire on a few more positions, but there is a minimum standard for security for malls and town centers and the like the same way police in a city have X number of officers driving about the time at a given point. All of which amounting to security cannot be everywhere at every moment. So negligence is generally tossed unless it can be shown that there was a change in safety precautions from those set down; or if the safety precautions first laid out were negligent, but that is also very doubtful.

Oh, and thank you both for reading and presenting your situations. It helps me a great deal to think about these aspects I didn't address in an article.

Steve Gregg

While I'm pro-gun, I don't think a CCW law would help stop theater shootings. I mean, really, if you thought you might need to defend yourself with a gun while watching a movie the rather obvious solution is to pick another theater, a safer one.

I have avoided theaters where there were disorderly young punks. There is a theater in the DC suburbs I avoid because MS 13 hacks people up with machetes there. I'm pretty sure that would not enhance my movie-going experience.

When I was in Houston, a guy went into diabetic shock and they stopped the movie and turned up the lights for the ambulance crew. The cops who followed found an enormous Hispanic guy drunk and asleep in the seats behind me. When they woke him up, he came up fighting, though his drunken brain was too weak to send its signals all the way out to the ends of his arms and legs, so he looked kinda like a big walrus flapping its flippers around. He went to the hoosegaw. That theater got scratched off my list.

The thing is, you can't fight crazy. You can't bunker up your whole city to protect against crazy people. A free, democratic civilization relies on trust to work. That means that every once in a while, some criminals and crazies will violate that trust. The criminals you can largely avoid by avoiding their territory. You can't avoid the crazy because they can pop up anywhere.

Every now and then for the rest of your lives, a crazy guy is going to kill a bunch of people. There's not much you can do about it other than hope you're not one of the victims. This is not a new thing. There have been mass murders for as long as humans have been making footprints. Before guns, murderers used edged weapons. Even know, mass murderers are just as likely to use knives as guns with about as much effect. The average mass murderer with a knife kills 4.5 people, while those with a gun kill 5. If I encounter a mass murderer, I'm hoping he uses a nice, noisy gun so I get warning to beat feet to the other side of a sturdy brick wall.

And really, is there any person who really thinks a sign prohibiting guns works in any way? It's the most worthless piece of metal produced.

Darren Feller

Mr. Stoffa - Great article and think you touch on some valid points, but you truly miss the fact that there is negligence to go around. The two main areas of focus is the school and the theater. The Dr and school had the duty to protect society from this guy. His shrink had concerns over Holmes and nothing was done. The school has even said that he was dropping out, therefore he was not in there jurisdiction anymore. Wrong! They had an obligation to act on & report him to the authorities. Please read the case: Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California (1976). The school was not proactive in protecting the public, especially when foreseeability was demonstrated that Holmes was dangerous. The school is negligent and should be sued.

The theater is somewhat negligent for there should have been a sensor on the door alerting the staff of who is going out the door. I'm guessing the door is a one way door, which access back into the theater must come from the front entrance. Typically when you leave an entertainment venue there is no re-entry. Holmes propped the door, after he exited, and this would make him trespassing. The staff should know the comings & goings of each door in the facility. There is no reason for a person to walk out those doors to take a cellphone call, for that is what the lobby is for. Those doors should be clearly stated for emergency and/or exiting after the show only, which sensoring these would alarm the staff to this activity.

Being proactive instead of reactive could have eliminated this tragedy or reduced the risk of so many people being killed & injured. These would be the two areas of where the lawsuits should be directed. Also, it's not obnoxious to file lawsuits where negligence is displayed. People and/or businesses need to be held accountable when their actions affect the livelihood of others.

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