Theater Massacre Lawsuits Won't Be Easy, Expert Says

PHOTO: Crime scene tape surrounds the Century 16 movie theater where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage, July 23, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado.
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At least one victim of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre has indicated he intends to sue, claiming that the theater failed to adequately protect its audience.

Torrence Brown, 18, is being represented by attorney Donald Karpel, a source confirmed, but was not authorized to discuss the details of the case.

In addition to the theater, Brown plans to sue the Hollywood producers of the Batman film, as well as those believed to have treated, and perhaps medicated,shooting suspect James Holmes prior to the shooting, according to reports.

Brown was in Century 16 Theatre last Friday night, attending a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" when Holmes allegedly opened fire, killing 12 and wounding 58.

Brown was not injured, but claims to suffer from trauma, according to reports.

Brown may be the first victim to seek monetary damages by filing a civil lawsuit, but he likely won't be the last.

Legal experts, however, caution that Brown and other victims looking to sue may find civil liability cases difficult to win.

A suit against Warner Brothers, the production company behind the "Dark Knight Rises," would prove to be difficult, said Mimi Wesson, a professor of Law at the University of Colorado.

"On the whole those kinds of lawsuits are not very successful, in that these cases rarely go to trial," she said. "Usually, they're decided on motion beforehand or settled by defendant."

Warner Brothers may, however, be gearing up for a suit. In a proactive approach to public relations, the company will contribute to a fund meant to help victims, and has pulled some trailers that accompanied "The Dark Knight Rises."

The trailer was for upcoming film "The Gangster Squad," starring Sean Penn, which aired in some theaters before "The Dark Knight Rises" featured a scene in which gunmen shoot up a movie theatre.

A judge in 1997 threw out a case against director Oliver Stone and the Teem Warner Company, producers, of the film "Natural Born Killers," following a suit by convenience-store owner Patsy Byers, who claimed she was shot and paralyzed by a couple intent on violence after watching the movie.

The court found the filmmakers were protected by the First Amendment and "the law simply does not recognize a cause of action such as that in Byers' petition."

"One of chief obstacle for plaintiffs is proof of causation. It's pretty hard to prove the movie inspired [Holmes] to commit this evil act because thousands if not millions of people were exposed to same material and didn't behave that way," Wesson said.

Any suit against the movie theater would have to prove the cinema acted unreasonably or was aware of a threat, said Mimi Wesson, a professor of Law at the University of Colorado.

Given the extremeness and the seeming randomness of the event, it becomes a high bar to prove in court.

Suing doctors is also not easy.

"They're difficult [suits against doctors] but for a different reason," Wesson said. "Correspondence and communication between a patient and a physician or psychotherapist is privileged and confidential. For a doctor to break that secrecy and warn someone is a very serious thing."

"I'm not saying a suit like that could never succeed, but it faces some very serious barriers," she said.

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