SXSW Sued for Pedestrian Deaths

A man whose daughter was injured at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival when a man fleeing police drove his car into a crowd claims the incident was preventable.
As reported in Courthouse News Service, the lawsuit filed in Travis County, TX Court comes after five previous lawsuits and one federal lawsuit stemming from the incident. It alleges gross negligence and premises liability.
Arthur Zamarripa sued SXSW Holdings and SXSW LLC, which operate the South by Southwest festival. Also sued were Transportation Design Consultants LLC and Rashad Owens, the alleged driver SXSW is a music and film and festival held in Austin every March. According to its statistics for 2014, SXSW had a total attendance of 376,600 people and generated $315.3 million for the Austin economy.
According to the arrest affidavit for the March 13, 2014 incident, an Austin police officer saw Rashad Owens make an illegal turn in his Honda Civic and almost collided with the officer. Owens fled on the southbound access road off Interstate 35 as the officer pursued with his emergency lights activated.
Owens pulled into a gas station parking lot and began driving the wrong way westbound on 9th Street. The officer was unable to catch up with Owens before he evaded a police barricade and hit several pedestrians – including Zamarripa’s daughter and her friends – with victims reported to “have been flying everywhere as they were being struck by the Honda,” according to the affidavit.
Owens continued driving north “at a high rate of speed mowing down people,” went through another barricade, and hit a motorcycle and taxicab, killing two people. When Owens’ Honda came to a stop, he began running before finally being apprehended by police. In total, four people were killed and dozens were injured in the incident.
Owens, who was determined to be driving drunk, admitted that he fled because he was worried about going to jail for prior warrants. He is currently in the Travis County jail after being indicted for capital murder.
As in the previous lawsuits, Zamarripa claims that the March 13 incident was a preventable tragedy because SXSW “knew or should have known that drivers under the influence of alcohol pose a risk of harm to festival-goers” and that SXSW had “superior knowledge of the risk that errant vehicles posed to festival attendees.”
The complaint alleges that SXSW was negligent for not avoiding a “foreseeable risk” and for not preventing Owens’ vehicle from “penetrating the perimeter of the festival zone and colliding with and injuring or killing festival-goers.”
“SXSW defendants failed to utilize adequate traffic control measures to protect attendees who were pedestrians or bicyclists,” the complaint states. “Ordinary, prudent festival organizers and ordinary, prudent traffic design consultants would have deployed rigid barricades to prevent errant vehicles from colliding with festival attendees.”
But the attorney for SXSW, Peter Kennedy, disagrees and told Courthouse News that the city of Austin chose the barriers used to close streets during the festival. Such “type III” barricades are used for temporary street closures and are the same ones the city had used for past events such as the governor’s inaugural parade.
Kennedy wants the lawsuits against SXSW dismissed on the basis that Rashad Owens is solely responsible for the tragedy. The attorney said that Owens’ actions were so unpredictable and extreme that they could not have been foreseen.
“Rashad Owens was fleeing the police and deliberately ran down pedestrians in an effort to escape – nothing remotely similar to what he did had ever occurred in Austin or during SXSW,” Kennedy said.
In a March 27, 2015 motion to dismiss one of the suits, Kennedy emphasized that “Texas law is very clear that SXSW is not liable for the harm Owens inflicted” because the law places sole liability for crimes on the criminal.
“Only when the risk of a particular crime happening is unreasonably high and foreseeable, based on a specific history of frequent, prior, recent similar crimes happening in the same location,” does Texas law make private parties liable to prevent criminal acts, according to the motion.
Kennedy said the lack of precedent for “any crime remotely similar to Qwens’ driving rampage” in Austin or during SXSW means that SXSW can not be held responsible for Owens’ crimes.
Zamarripa seeks regular damages and punitive damages for defendants’ intentional, wanton, malicious, and oppressive actions.