Music Law: Sugaland Sued for Stage Collapse & Proceeding With Concert Despite Bad Weather

Folks I have discussed breach of contract agreements in the past and focused specifically on concert cancellations. Please reference the J-Lo and Mos Def concert cancellation for a review. The facts on the country music group Sugaland reported below by USA Today is still within the realm of contract law but with an interesting twist I am yet to discuss with you all. As an artist, what if you know that the weather is bad but you decide to take the risks to perform? What if you take the risks and really bad things happen i.e. there is an accident, 7 people die and many more are injured, totaling 40. Should you be held liable? In Sugaland’s case, those suing believe so.

A few key legal concepts to note:

1. Force Majeure Clause: While it can be quite difficult to terminate a contract that you  entered into, there are things that happen that are beyond your human control which permit all parties in a contract to terminate the contract. These are what are known as “acts of God” aka “Force Majeure” clause. They include things such as natural disasters, war, strikes, riots etc.

In contract agreements, this is a standard and essential clause. It is safe, therefore, to presume Sugaland had a “Force Majeure” clause in their contract with promoters and other third parties. Accordingly, they should have cancelled the concert, given the notice of really bad weather. Obviously, they say hindsight is 20/20 so there are a lot more facts trial lawyers like myself would need for a case like this.

The second issue we have to discuss is whether the fans who attended the concert and have sued, have a legitimate claim against Sugaland, among other parties they sued. Arguably, when they attended the event, they assumed the risk that anything could happen to them. How then can it be okay to impute liability, from an act of nature, on Sugaland? It makes no sense, right?

Yes and no.

2. Invitee: When you attend a venue for an event in response to an advertisement, VIP invitation for an event, your status on that venue or land is that of an “invitee.” Invitees are divided into two categories.

a) The first category are persons invited, whether explicit or implied, to a land i.e. venue held open to the public. Think about your churches, museums, parks and what have you.

b) The second category are persons who enter for the specific purpose connected with your business or other interests pertaining to you. So musicians, assume you are a music producer and you own your studio, if artists show up to rent space and record their music in your studio, they are invitees. If you are an employee and you show up to your employer’s building to work, you are an invitee. Invitee includes your post man dropping off mail etc.

The third legal concept I want to leave you all with, specific to this case, is the concept of “Licensee.” When I speak of Licensee, it is not in the context of a licensing agreement or licensing deals as I have in the past. Here, I speak of a situation where a person (licensee) visits your land/premise, with your permission, for his/her own purpose or business. NOTE: If a person has no permission to be on your premises, then he/she is trespassing. You can ask them to leave depending on the establishment or you can call the police, especially where such persons arrives unannounced to your home.

Okay. Now we have reviewed ‘Force Majeure clause’ and then expanded our legal vocabulary to include licensees and invitees.

Back to the story. What is Sugaland’s status on the venue where it performs?

Ans: Licensee

What is the status of the attendees at the Sugaland concert?

Ans: Invitees

What obligations, if any, is/was owed by Sugaland to its invitees?

Ans: Sugaland has/had a duty to warn of nonobvious, dangerous conditions known to Sugaland and to use ordinary care in the business it conducted on that venue. In addition, Sugaland had a duty to discover dangerous conditions on that venue and once it found out, then it had a responsibility to make the venue safe by fixing the issues.

The aforementioned will be at the heart of this litigation and most importantly, it narrows in on the allegation that Sugaland should not have performed given the bad weather. But for Sugaland’s failure to not perform, the argument goes, the attendees injured would not have been injured when the stage collapsed.

Obviously the trial lawyers here would need more facts on both ends to really get to the heart of what happened.

Another big battle is going to be the responsibility of patrons when they attend a concert. We get into “assumptions of risks” clauses typically found at the back of your tickets when you park in a garage or attend concerts like these or even work out at your local gyms.

Overall, this case is messy on both sides. It is painful for the families of the deceased and injured and painful for all involved. Prudent trial lawyers, given the publicity involved here, would also want this case to go away, very quickly. It is a very bad case with very bad publicity and not counting the extremely emotional trauma associated with the reported facts of this case.

We will see how all of this shakes out.

In any event read the story below:

Attorneys representing at least 20 law firms across Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky filed the complaint alleging breach of reasonable care to the victims in Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Sugarland, producers, stage riggers and others associated with the Aug. 13 show. Stage rigging collapsed into spectators following a wind gust of at least 60 mph, killing seven people and injuring more than 40 others. Sugarland had not yet taken the stage when the collapse occurred.

Sugarland’s contract specified the act had the final say on whether to cancel the concert due to weather, plaintiff’s attorney Mario Massillamany said in a news release.

“Unfortunately, this tragedy could have been prevented if the responsible parties had been concerned about the concertgoers that night,” Massillamany said.

The contract reached between Sugarland’s agent, Creative Artists Agency, and the Indiana State Fair Committee guaranteed the duo $300,500 to perform, $34,500 for sound, lights and catering, and 85% of gross box office receipts over $470,000, Massillamany said.

“This is a devastating tragedy that has impacted hundreds of people,” plaintiffs’ co-counsel Scott Starr said. “It is critical to help the victims pay the medical bills and other financial expenses that they have incurred from this incident. . . “

USA TODAY has the full story.