The Aurora Theater Lawsuit: Were Lessons Learned?

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Algr (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Algr (CC BY-SA 3.0)


By Julie Williams, Associate Editor

July 20, 2012. Gunman James Holmes stormed into Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado, and set forth an attack on innocent moviegoers. He murdered 12 people and wounded 70 others.[2] Children were among the victims — including an unborn baby.[3] It was one of the worst massacres we have faced as a nation. The aftermath of the attack brought forth a question that we were all afraid to face: How safe are we?

In the charges stemming from the massacre, Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. While he was spared the death penalty, Holmes received multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.[2]

Over two dozen surviving victims and relatives of those killed sued Cinemark USA in state court, accusing the company of lax security measures, which the plaintiffs argued made the theater chain partially responsible for the attack.[2] Among the evidence presented was the lack of security cameras, guards, and silent alarms.[3] A separate group of survivors also brought suit in federal court.[2] The hope underlying both suits was to raise the bar for other theaters across the country. Should that not be the concern for us all?

This past May, in a verdict that shocked many, an Arapahoe County civil jury ruled that Cinemark was not liable for the shooting.[1] It was held that the mass shooting was an unforeseeable tragedy. Therefore, under Colorado law, Cinemark was entitled to recover for the litigation costs (which are separate from attorney’s fees), since it prevailed in the lawsuit.[2] Subsequently, in June, Cinemark filed its “bill of costs,” which totaled $699,187.13.[1]

In the federal case, a group of survivors was prepared to settle with Cinemark, after U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson declared that he was ready to rule for the theater.[1] Jackson based his decision on the jury’s verdict in the state case; however, the survivors and Cinemark were given the option to negotiate a possible settlement and had 24 hours to reach a conclusion.[1] Cinemark’s offer was $150,000 to be divided amongst the 41 plaintiffs. The three most critically injured were to each receive $30,000, and the remaining 38 would equally split $60,000.[1]

All but one plaintiff agreed, albeit with great hesitance. The woman who did not accept the offer had suffered immensely at the hands of Holmes: She was left paralyzed, and both her child and unborn baby were killed.[4] The plaintiffs in the federal case were warned that they could also face court costs, should they choose to appeal. That decision has yet to be rendered.

Cinemark said in subsequent court filings that it would drop the request to pay fees if the victims agreed not to appeal the jury verdict.[2] The victims eventually agreed to this.[2] The signature of a judge is all that is needed for the state suit to conclude. This is expected to simply be a formality without issue.

There is mixed emotion regarding the holding of these lawsuits. While it is disheartening that the victims walked away penniless, it also seems unfair to hold the theater liable for one man’s horrific acts. The true concern, though, lies in the future. Are we any safer than we were prior to this massacre? Are theaters, including Cinemark, taking additional security steps? Only time will tell.



[1] Tribune Media Wire, Four Survivors of Aurora Shooting Massacre Ordered to Pay Theater Chain Nearly $700,000,

[2] Coffman, Keith, Colorado’s civil litigation over movie theater massacre ends,

[3] Vonn Zeipel, Emma, Cinemark Drops Claim of $700,000 in Legal Fees from Theater Shooting Survivors,

[4] Duara, Nigel, Aurora massacre survivors sued. How did some end up owing the theater $700,000?,

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