Overbooked Movie Theater Stampede Case Continues

Crowded movie theaters can be fun, especially for summer blockbusters. Unless, of course, you’re stuck up front and need to crane your neck way up.

Another downside is the risk of being injured in a movie theater crowd stampede. Those are the facts giving rise to the lawsuit in Sachar v. Columbia Pictures Indus., Inc., decided by the Appellate Division, First Department on June 4, 2015.

Here are the facts of this personal injury / premises liability case:

Plaintiff alleges that she sustained injuries when she fell down a crowded staircase in a Regal movie theater, where she was escorting a group of teenagers to see a free screening of a movie that was produced by Columbia and Sony, and shown at a Regal theater. She testified that her group was first directed to an upper level to find seats and then was told to turn around and go downstairs. As they were returning, there was a sudden stampede of people rushing from behind, and plaintiff felt a “pushing thud” behind her and she was hurled in the air. Regal’s assistant manager confirmed that there appeared to have been a stampede, and Sony’s employee testified that the event was overbooked to ensure the theater was filled to capacity.

The court held that, under these facts, defendants were not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The law provides that “landowners and permittees owe those on their property a duty of reasonable care under the circumstances to maintain their property in a safe condition, and to minimize foreseeable dangers on their property.”

Applying the law to the facts, the court held:

Under the circumstances presented, involving the deliberate overbooking of a theater for a free film screening, defendants were required to show that they took adequate crowd control measures to address the foreseeable risks to those attending in order to meet their prima facie burden of demonstrating entitlement to summary judgment. Here, defendants knew that the screening was deliberately overbooked, and it was, therefore, foreseeable that overcrowding could be a problem. Deposition testimony from both plaintiff and Regal’s manager demonstrated that the staircase on which plaintiff fell was crowded, and that the crowd had formed a “stampede” after being redirected downstairs to find available seats in the crowded theater. Since defendants failed to present evidence that adequate crowd control measures were in place, the motions for summary judgment were properly denied.

Furthermore, with respect to Sony and Columbia, the deposition testimony also creates an issue of fact as to their specific security duties, as sponsors of the event, at the screening.

… In any event, the record presents triable issues as to whether plaintiff was unable to find a place of safety or her free movement was restricted due to the alleged overcrowded conditions.

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