MGM, the parent company of the Las Vegas hotel Mandalay Bay and the Route 91 Harvest festival, has filed preemptive federal complaints against more than a thousand survivors of the October 1, 2017 mass shooting.
Citing the SAFETY Act (Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act), MGM has asked that a judge determine if the Act protects them from civil lawsuits, and if so to move current cases from state to federal court.
From the Los Angeles Times:
The idea was that companies might not introduce new security technologies designed to thwart terrorist attacks if the companies would then face expensive — and potentially business-ending — lawsuits when those technologies fail to stop killings.
So policymakers offered companies a deal: With approval for their services by the Department of Homeland Security, they are protected from terrorism-related lawsuits.
The security contractor used by Mandalay Bay and Route 91 Harvest festival was Contemporary Services Corporation, a security company that is a certified and officially designated SAFETY Act agent. They have a page devoted to their SAFETY Act credentials on their website. Due to that certification, MGM is claiming it followed the requirements of the SAFETY Act and should be immune from terrorism-related lawsuits.
At issue in the lawsuit will be the definition of terrorism. Law enforcement has not established a firm motive for the shooting, so it cannot be considered terrorism using the FBI guidelines. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as crimes “Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature. ” (FBI.gov) The motive is a key component of that definition. The Act, however, was intentionally written broadly, and encompasses “acts of mass injury and destruction.”
The spokeswoman for MGM Resorts, Debra DeShong, released a statement: (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
“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.”
At stake are dozens, probably hundreds of millions of dollars in liability payments and the possibility of precedent being set. Also, while MGM is absolutely correct in their assessment of the potential speed of the case handling, that speed would be due to many of the lawsuits being dismissed with a finding that MGM is not a legal target for financial damages. This is a public relations disaster, whether they win or lose the case.