MGM Resorts International, which owns Mandalay Bay, went to federal courts in Nevada and California last week to request that the court declares that MGM is not liable for the October 2017 mass shooting that was carried out by a gunman who shot from his bedroom at the Mandalay Bay hotel.
The online vegas games company requested that all claims against them be dismissed, arguing that “plaintiffs have no liability of any kind to defendants.”
The number of litigants in the case could top one thousand. That number includes both shooting victims and families of those who were killed. Many of the victims have already filed lawsuits in state courts and by suing the victims, MGM is aiming to avoid liability.
MGM wants to move any possible lawsuits into Federal Court. They believe that a 2002 federal act, the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies, or SAFETY Act, can be applied which would extend liability protection to the Mandalay Bay case. The Act states that any company that uses “anti-terrorism” technology or services that can “help prevent and respond to mass violence” would not be liable in cases where harm was caused.
MGM is arguing that it cannot be held liable for the Oct. 1 deaths, injuries or other damages that occurred as a result of Steven Paddock's shooting rampage which he was able to accomplish from his Mandalay Bay hotel room. MGM's suit adds that any claims made against MGM parties must be dismissed. The suit states that “plaintiffs have no liability of any kind to defendants.”
The company is arguing that Contemporary Services Corp, the security vendor that MGM hired for Route 91, is protected from liability based on the SAFETY Act. The Contemporary Services Corp, had been certified by the Department of Homeland Security for “protecting against and responding to acts of mass injury and destruction.” Since MGM hired the security company, the lawsuits argue, this protection extends to MGM.
MGM isn't seeking to collect money from the victims in the suit. They are, however, asking that a judge decide if the 2002 SAFETY Act is applicable. If the act is applicable, the lawsuit says, the court will be asked to determine that future civil lawsuits against the company are not viable.
The victims, understandably, and much of the public is horrified by MGM's attempt to avoid responsibility. Las Vegas lawyer Robert Eglet, who is representing several victims, said the decision is a "blatant display of judge shopping" that "quite frankly verges on unethical."
"I’ve never seen a more outrageous thing, where they sue the victims in an effort to find a judge they like," Eglet said. "It’s just really sad that they would stoop to this level."
Debra DeShong, MGM Resorts' spokesperson, released a statement about the litigation. The statement said, in part “The Federal Court is an appropriate venue for these cases and provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.”
Eglet says that the grounds of the litigation are “obscure.” MGM is a Nevada company so any lawsuits belong in state court. He called the attempt to move the venue for the victims' lawsuits from state to federal court a “blatant display of judge shopping” that “quite frankly verges on unethical.”
“I’ve never seen a more outrageous thing, where they sue the victims in an effort to find a judge they like,” he said. “It’s just really sad that they would stoop to this level.”
Much of the argument rests on the definition of the word "terrorism." The act that's been cited in the MGM lawsuit was inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and was passed about one year after the attacks took place. The act includes broad protections in defining terrorism as any "unlawful act inside the United States that causes “mass destruction, injury or other loss.”
The FBI, however, has not called the Las Vegas mass shooting an act of terrorism. They were never able to identify a clear motive for the attack. The FBI defines terrorism as an act of terror associated with "extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature."
MGM has a lot of work to do to present the case without getting trashed in the court of public opinion. To head off criticism, they released a statement, saying “The unforeseeable events of October 1st affected thousands of people in Las Vegas and throughout North America. From the day of this tragedy, we have focused on the recovery of those impacted by the despicable act of one evil individual. While we expected the litigation that followed, we also feel strongly that victims and the community should be able to recover and find resolution in a timely manner. The Federal Court is an appropriate venue for these cases and provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.”
MGM said the move was in the best interest of the victims, too.
"Congress provided that the federal courts were the correct place for such litigation relating to incidents of mass violence like this one where security services approved by the Department of Homeland Security were provided."