Factual and procedural background
Katie Dix was a 19-year-old woman who attended the Hard Summer Music Festival on Aug. 1, 2015. The concert, called Hard Fest, was put on by Live Nation Entertainment. To secure permits for the festival, Live Nation built multiple structures, including several medical structures and cooling stations throughout the location where the festival would be held. A safety protocol booklet was written that recognized that some concertgoers would likely bring illegal drugs to the concert to consume and distribute. Concertgoers had to enter through security gates to get into the festival. At the gates, security personnel patted down each person and checked their waistbands and the insides of their shoes to ensure that they did not have drugs. Concertgoers could deposit contraband, including illegal drugs, in contraband boxes at the entry areas without getting in trouble.
Dix attended the festival with two friends, Taylor Blair and Darby Bednarski. After they arrived at 4 pm on Aug. 1, Dix and her friends waited in line for one hour. They then visited several stages before heading to the pink dome stage around 6 pm. Dix separated from Bednarski and Blair for around 15 minutes to talk to some friends from high school. After she returned, she sat down outside the pink dome. Guards told her that she could not sit there, so she went inside. Her friends noticed that she appeared clammy. Dix subsequently lost consciousness and fell to the ground, striking her head. Bednarski and Blair ran to some security personnel and asked for help.
The security personnel carried Dix outside and laid her down on the ground. Bednarski and Blair testified that they left her lying there without rendering aid while waiting for medical personnel to arrive. Once the medical personnel arrived, they loaded Dix into an ambulance, and Bednarski got in the front seat of the ambulance while the emergency medical technicians administered CPR to Dix. At some point, Bednarski said that the EMTs stopped performing CPR and were told to not stop. When she was transported to the hospital, a doctor pronounced Dix dead. The cause of death was found to be acute intoxication of MDMA and bath salts.
Dix’s parents filed a lawsuit against Live Nation on Aug. 16, 2017. They alleged five causes of action against Live Nation, including premises liability, negligence, wrongful death, public nuisance, and survival. The plaintiffs argued that MDMA or ecstasy is a known party drug and that Live Nation had constructive knowledge that some of the attendees would consume and distribute the drug. They argued that it was especially risky since the temperatures were going to be more than 90 degrees. Ecstasy causes a risk of severe dehydration. Dix’s parents argued that after Dix collapsed, it took 30 minutes for medical personnel to arrive and that the on-site security and medical staff were inadequately trained and didn’t provide proper care to Dix, causing her condition to worsen.
Dix’s parents argued that Live Nation was negligent and owed a duty to the attendees at the festival. They argued that despite the fact that Live Nation knew that illegal drug use would be widespread at the festival, they failed to provide adequate staffing or to train their staff properly. Live Nation filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe a duty of care to Dix to protect her from choosing to use illegal drugs at the festival. Live Nation also argued that even if it did owe a duty of care to Dix, the plaintiffs could not prove that any action of Live Nation substantially contributed to Dix’s decision to ingest MDMA.
The Dixes argued that Live Nation had a duty of reasonable and ordinary care to ensure a safe environment for the concertgoers, including Dix. They argued that it was reasonably foreseeable that a large number of attendees would use illegal drugs. Because of this, the Dixes argued that Live Nation should have had enough properly trained medical personnel and security staff available to render appropriate care to Dix and that Live Nation had failed in its duty.
The trial court granted Live Nation’s motion for summary judgment. The court found that there was not a close, causal connection between Katie’s death and Live Nation’s actions in putting on Hard Fest. The Dixes filed an appeal.
Issue: Whether Live Nation owed a duty to Dix and other festival attendees?
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that Live Nation owed a duty of care to Dix and other festival attendees because of the special relationship that existed between the entertainment company and concertgoers. Live Nation argued that it did not owe a duty of care to Dix because she voluntarily chose to consume an illegal drug.
Rule: If a special relationship exists between a defendant and a potential victim, the defendant will have a duty to protect the victim from or warn the victim of any potential dangers.
The plaintiffs argued that Live Nation had a special relationship with the concertgoers because the attendees depended on the entertainment company to protect them from harm and to provide prompt medical care if they became ill. Live Nation argued that it did not have a special relationship with the concertgoers and did not owe Dix a duty of care. It argued that her death was caused by her choice to ingest illegal drugs and had nothing to do with any action it had taken.
The appeals court began its analysis by considering whether Live Nation had a special relationship with the festival attendees. The court first noted that a defendant with a special relationship to the victim may have a duty to protect or warn, and a potential victim has a right to expect protection. The court stated that a special relationship can be found in situations in which a potential victim has to rely on the defendant for protection and care. A special relationship exists between a business or landowner and its invited guests, which carries a duty to protect the invited guests from foreseeable harm. The court found that Live Nation did have a special relationship with Dix and had a duty to warn and protect her from foreseeable harm.
The court then considered whether Dix’s use of ecstasy and subsequent overdose were foreseeable harms. It looked at Live Nation’s safety protocols, which stated that drug use was a major risk for the festival. It also noted that Live Nation had taken steps to limit drug use at the concert, including conducting pat-down searches of attendees, hiring security personnel to watch for signs of impairment, placing contraband boxes at the entrances, and using drug dogs. In looking at these facts, the court found that Dix’s drug overdose and death were reasonably foreseeable. The court determined that triable issues of material fact remained in dispute about causation.
The appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision. The case was returned for further proceedings, and the plaintiffs were awarded their costs for the appeal.
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People who have suffered serious injuries and the families of people who have died at concerts from foreseeable risks may have a right to recover compensation. Contact the Steven M. Sweat Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation by calling 866.966.5240.