MGM Resorts International filed a lawsuit on July 13 saying the company has “no liability of any kind” to the victims of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
More than 2,500 people have filed or threatened lawsuits against MGM, the parent company of the Mandalay Bay, a Las Vegas hotel and casino where a gunman rented a room and opened fire onto a country music festival in October.
The victims are looking to hold MGM responsible for the “deaths, injuries, and emotional distress resulting” from the attack.
MGM’s lawsuit, which sparked outrage on social media, said these claims “must be dismissed” because the security services it procured for the Route 91 Harvest country music festival were provided by Contemporary Services Corporation, who has been certified by the Department of Homeland Security “for protecting against and responding to acts of mass injury and destruction.” Those who use these approved services, MGM argued, are granted certain protections from liability under the 2002 Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act.
Yet Las Vegas police have yet to determine a motive for the attack that killed 58 and wounded hundreds of others, nor have they ruled it an act of terrorism, raising questions about MGM’s legal action.
DHS officials didn’t immediately respond to a request from the PBS NewsHour about MGM’s lawsuit.
Here’s what we know about MGM’s claims, the lawsuits and where the investigation into the mass shooting stands.
What is the SAFETY Act?
After 9/11, “the private sector was extremely reluctant to deploy security technologies and services in civilian settings due to the enormous liability risks involved,” DHS said in a fact sheet.
The SAFETY ACT, enacted in 2002, was a way to encourage private companies to deploy anti-terrorism technologies without an overriding fear of being held responsible.
It limits a company’s liability in claims that follow a terror attack, so long as that company used services certified by Homeland Security.
Those services include cybersecurity technologies, crisis management systems and blast mitigation materials. Also on the list? Venue security.
In the case of MGM, those certified services were provided by a third party — Contemporary Services Corporation.
According to the DHS SAFETY Act website, the agency certified services provided by the Contemporary Services Corporation — physical security, access control and crowd management, among others — in April 2017, months before the Las Vegas shooting.
MGM said in its filing that the defendants’ lawsuits “implicate the services provided by CSC” — and not those provided by MGM — “because they implicate security at the concert, for example security training, emergency response, evacuation, and adequacy of egress.”
Was the Las Vegas shooting ruled an act of terrorism?
The gunman, Stephen Paddock, shot from the windows of his 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay hotel room onto an Oct. 1, 2017, open-air concert packed with thousands of attendees. Paddock killed 58 concertgoers and injured hundreds of others in the attack. He killed himself before authorities gained entry into his hotel room.
But about nine months after the mass shooting, Las Vegas authorities have yet to declare Paddock’s attack an act of terrorism. This is because police have not determined a clear motive. (And, it should be noted, experts have debated when to label an event an act of terror, too.)
But the investigation has uncovered many details about Paddock, his preparation before the attack, how he set up the hotel room for the shooting, how Las Vegas officers responded to the shooting that night, and which weapons he used, among other details. Police believe Paddock is the lone suspect in the shooting.
Las Vegas police released a preliminary report over the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting that killed 58 people. The gunman, Stephen Paddock, opened fire on 22,000 fans at an open-air concert from a hotel window above. Here's the report: https://t.co/DA8aYBTLaL pic.twitter.com/TCa8BVbK7l
— Joshua Barajas (@Josh_Barrage) January 19, 2018
Still, his motive remains unknown to investigators. According to Las Vegas authorities, that answer may never come.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told News 3 in June that as the investigation nears its end, he’s doubtful a motive will materialize.
“At this point, it’s no,” Lombardo said. “I don’t see anything in the near future that would change my statement,” he added. The sheriff also said “there’s some information that we believe that his mental state was degrading.”
Can MGM cite the SAFETY Act if the shooting is not ruled an act of terrorism?
“MGM is doing it wrong,” D.C. attorney Brian Finch and SAFETY ACT legal expert told the NewsHour.
Companies who have certification of the SAFETY Act cannot use liability protections “unless or until the secretary of Homeland Security has declared that the underlying event — in this case, Steven Paddock’s murderous rampage — an act of terrorism,” said Finch, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
MGM is also asserting that all of its liability is erased because Contemporary Services Corporation has SAFETY Act protections. That is also incorrect, Finch said.
Even if DHS declared the Oct. 1 shooting an act of terrorism and the claims were heard in federal court, “MGM still can face liability for any actions they took that were independent of what CSC has done,” Finch said.
Back in November, hundreds of survivors filed a handful of lawsuits, alleging negligence by MGM and Live Nation, the organizer of the country music festival. The plaintiffs argued that MGM didn’t have sufficient security policies at the Mandalay Bay hotel and inadequate training for its staff. Live Nation was accused of having inadequate exits and proper evacuation planning at the festival.
“MGM is facing a whole set of other claims related to its actions inside the walls of the hotel,” Finch said, adding that victims can still pursue claims against MGM regardless of what the SAFETY Act says about the Contemporary Services Corporation.
Who does MGM think is liable?
In a statement, MGM spokesperson Debra DeShong acknowledged how the “unforeseeable events of October 1st affected thousands of people in Las Vegas and throughout North America.” The statement focuses squarely on Paddock: “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.”
DeShong also wrote that Congress has determined that the federal courts were the “correct place” to handle lawsuits stemming from mass attacks where DHS certified security services were provided.
“Years of drawn out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing,” the statement continued.
Another MGM spokesperson declined to answer additional questions on the record.
What do the victims say?
Robert Eglet, an attorney representing some of the shooting victims, called MGM’s legal action “outrageous,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
“It’s just really sad that they would stoop to this level,” Eglet said of MGM.
After a series of smaller information releases, The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is expected to file its final report on the shooting sometime in late July.
And it remains to be seen if a judge agrees with MGM on whether the SAFETY Act grants the company protection from liability.