One Year Later, The Massive Litigation Over Astroworld Is Just Getting Started

A year after the deadly disaster at Travis Scott‘s Astroworld festival on Nov. 5, 2021, event organizers and victims are still locked in sprawling litigation over the tragedy, with hundreds of millions in potential damages on the line and no quick end in sight.

Beginning just hours after the incident, more than 4,900 alleged victims have filed legal claims against Live Nation, Travis Scott and other festival organizers over the disaster at Astroworld, in which a crowd crush during Scott’s headlining performance left 10 dead and hundreds physically injured.

The cases claim the organizers were legally negligent in how they planned and conducted the event, including not providing enough security and having insufficient emergency protocols in place. One case, filed by the family of a boy who died that night, claimed Live Nation and Scott had “egregiously failed in their duty to protect the health, safety, and lives of those in attendance.”

Combined, the cases are seeking billions in damages over the disaster. Even if a final settlement comes no where close to that total — and it likely won’t — the huge potential penalties resulting such “mass tort” cases should serve a stark reminder for those planning future music festivals.

“In business situations there’s always a pressure to cut costs, but you can’t cut costs in a way that ends up costing people lives and limbs,” says Mark Geistfeld, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert in such litigation. “The point of mass torts is that you need something out there to temper the profit motive.”

“These cases can be a real wake up call,” Geistfeld says. “Are we actually spending enough on security and things like that to make sure these kinds things don’t happen?”

The lawsuits over Astroworld were all filed individually by the different victims, but they’ve been consolidated before a single Texas state judge as a “multidistrict litigation” — a standard procedure aimed at avoiding the inefficiency of individually litigating many cases that share key similarities.

Such a move not only helps streamline the proceedings, but also could make it easier to reach a broad settlement with all victims, like the $800 million deal that ended similar litigation over a 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert festival.

“Settlements are the way these cases almost always end,” says Jay Tidmarsh, a professor at Notre Dame Law School and an expert in complex civil litigation. “They make sense because of the risks of loss on both sides as well as the cost of litigation.”

A year into the case over Astroworld, sources close to the litigation tell Billboard that the parties are currently in the midst of what is known as discovery — the laborious process during lawsuits in which each side hands over mountains of evidence to their opponents, like internal emails about how the event was planned. Requests for such info have been exchanged, and disputes over what should be disclosed will be hammered out by the judge in the months ahead.

The parties are also gearing up to start depositions, in which attorneys for each side will take testimony from the various figures in the case, potentially including victims themselves, witnesses to the disaster, people involved in planning and many others. Each side is also lining up their own “expert witnesses” — specialists and professionals who will offer dueling analysis on what went down at Astroworld.

That work could still take well over another year, given the sweeping scope of a case involving more than a dozen defendants and thousands of plaintiffs. But when discovery and depositions eventually wrap up, the case will likely head in one of two ways.

One is a quick settlement. Based on what gets disclosed during discovery, it could become apparent to attorneys for the organizers that they’re facing a very strong case. Or plaintiffs might get worried that their ultimate damages award might be limited, even after years of costly litigation.

“One way these cases go is what’s called global peace — a large settlement that will cover all of these claims,” Geistfeld says. “If the amount is right, it might just be better for both sides to take that route rather than go to case by case litigation.”

If the parties can’t reach such a deal, they’ll keep litigating. But they won’t just take all 4,900 cases to trial. Instead, the litigation will likely proceed toward what are known as “bellwethers” – a handful of trials over individual victims that aim to serve as a representative sample of the broader case.

In the bellwethers, the two sides will grapple over the core question in all the cases — whether the conduct of Live Nation, Scott or any of the other planners caused the injuries suffered by various concertgoers. As reported by Billboard last year, that question will turn on whether the planners could have seen such a disaster coming, and whether they then took the proper steps to avoid it.

No matter how those early cases play out, experts say the case is still likely to eventually end in a settlement. But the outcome of the bellwethers will play a huge role in decided how that deal is ultimately structured.

“What [bellwether trials] do is set a baseline for negotiation,” Tidmarsh says. “Say the plaintiffs lose almost all of the early cases, then the settlement value goes way down. Say they win millions, then the value goes way up.”

Bill Donahue