How Festivals Can Go Bad: Music Festival Injuries and Legal Issues

Good weather. Good music. Good food. Spending time with friends and meeting new people. What could go wrong? A lot, in fact. There’s nothing quite like an outdoor music festival for fun and entertainment. But music festivals are also unique in the risks they present to attendees. The list of potential music festival injuries is almost as long as a festival’s musical lineup. These events are also hotspots for criminal acts.

Injuries and crimes that occur at outdoor concerts raise numerous legal issues, including which parties may be liable and whether appropriate steps were taken to safeguard attendees. When tragic events interrupt the good vibes of a festival, it might be worth talking to a lawyer.

Outdoor Music Festivals Are Injury Hotspots

Music festivals, for better and, at times, for worse, are a tradition unlike any other.

32 million people attend at least one U.S. music festival each year. Over a 10-year period, nearly 70,000 people were seriously injured and 232 people died at approximately 300 outdoor music concerts.

According to Billboard.com, 32 million people attend at least one U.S. music festival each year. While big events like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and SXSW draw the biggest crowds and the biggest acts, there are many smaller, local events across the country, such as the Lost Lands festival in Legend Valley, Ohio.

Average attendance for these events can run into the thousands, or even the tens of thousands, of people. Getting that many bodies together can be a recipe for good times—and for disaster. Crowds, drug and alcohol use, high excitement levels, the influences of music and performers, exposure to the elements, and risky behavior such as mosh pits and crowd diving create a volatile situation.

Music Festival Injury Statistics

Attending these large events is associated with an increased risk of injury and, in extreme cases, death. Worldwide, nearly 70,000 people suffered significant injury and 232 people died at approximately 300 outdoor music concerts held over a 10-year period, one study found. However, these statistics probably understate the problem due to large numbers of unreported injuries and poor gathering of festival-injury information.

Even at 1969’s “peace and love” Woodstock, three people died and 6,000 were treated for injury. And older Ohioans might remember the 1979 The Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 people were crushed to death and dozens more were injured. Here are some examples of tragedies at music festivals in recent years:

  • A 24-year-old man died of hyperthermia at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. At the same event, a young woman was found dead inside a tent.
  • At the All Good Music Festival in West Virginia, a woman was killed and two were injured in a campground when a pickup truck ran over her tent while she was sleeping.
  • A massive stampede at a German music festival resulted in 19 deaths and 340 injuries.
  • Nine people were injured at Ohio’s Lost Lands festival this year when a transport shuttle overturned.

Crimes at Music Festivals

Music festivals are also hotbeds of criminal activity. Attendees are faced with the prospect of falling victim to theft, drugs, violence, and sexual crimes. Statistics out of the UK, which hosts a number of notable music festivals, show that 1 in 500 festival goers are the victim of crime, including a 1 in 640 chance of being pickpocketed.

The context of these events, where tightly-packed bodies make surveillance challenging and intoxication is often part of the festival culture, creates an environment ripe for sexual abuse. A stat sheet published by the University of Nevada Las Vegas Criminal Justice Department reveals that 92 percent of female festival attendees have experienced sexual harassment. Fifty-five percent say they had been groped and three percent said they had been sexually assaulted or raped.

If you were accused of a crime at a music festival, our criminal defense lawyers may be able to help.

Legal Liability for Festival Injuries

Festivals are logistically complex events that require coordination among numerous parties. At the top of the pyramid are entertainment executives, like music festival owners. The owner usually hires a festival director to liaise with the venue owner, vendors, city officials, on-site staff, festival staging contractors, security companies, and production managers.

Many venues require event organizers to carry special event insurance to help pay for medical expenses if a guest is injured.

The festival director is typically in charge of making sure that the festival receives adequate insurance coverage for everything that might go wrong. A comprehensive set of festival risks must be managed, a task so complex that Risk Management magazine called music festivals “almost uninsurable.” Festivals, of course, are insured at many levels, including with special event insurance. Many venues require event organizers to carry this type of insurance to help pay for medical expenses if a guest is injured. Vendors and contractors may have their own liability insurance as well.

Parties that may bear blame when accidents happen at a music festival include:

  • Concert venue owner
  • Festival organizers
  • Security personnel
  • Staging contractors
  • Food and drink vendors
  • Maintenance staff
  • Transport/shuttle drivers
  • Other attendees
  • Musical artists

The circumstances of a festival injury dictate which party (or parties) may be held liable. For example:

  • If a stage collapse injures concert goers, the company that designed and set up the stage may be responsible.
  • Electrocution due to exposed or faulty wiring of stage sets could be the fault of the production team.
  • A sexual assault, violent attack, or mass shooting incident could be a negligent security issue.
  • A drunk driving accident might be tracked back to not only the driver, but a vendor that served the alcohol to an obviously-intoxicated person.
  • Trampling injuries might result from inadequate crowd control measures and exit routes. In the event of an emergency, there must be a plan in place to safely evacuate patrons.
  • Trip and fall injuries may be attributable to event staff, or a lack thereof (e.g., there were not enough people hired to pick up trash).

When such a complex web of liability exists, more than one party might be at fault. In addition, contractors might try to shift blame to the event management team, which then shifts blame to the venue or festival owner. Insurance companies usually sort these issues out among themselves. Ultimately, it may require a personal injury lawsuit to produce a just insurance payout to the victim.

To speak with an attorney about an injury that occurred at an outdoor concert, music festival, or other mass entertainment event, please contact Graham & Graham for a free case review.

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