Attorneys for the movie theater chain Cinemark want victims of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting to pay $700 thousand in legal fees following an unsuccessful suit in which the victims sued Cinemark.
The 2012 shooting left 12 dead and another 70 injured at the midnight premier of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. The lawsuit was brought by over 28 of the victims and victims’ families in a Colorado state court and claimed that Cinemark, the nation’s third largest movie chain, should have done more to protect patrons from the attack. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the theater had no guards posted and that there was no alarm on the emergency door that the attacker, James Holmes, used to enter the theater.
The jury in the case found in favor of Cinemark, which argued that the attack was unforeseeable and that nothing could have stopped the heavily armed Holmes. Recently, a judge in a similar suit brought in federal court dismissed the case, saying that the theater’s lack of security did not play a substantial part in the victims’ deaths.
Cinemark’s attorneys stated in their filing that the $700,000 is needed to cover costs of preserving evidence, retrieving and copying records, travel and other expenses. Although the judge did not immediately rule on the request, Colorado state courts do allow the winning side of a lawsuit to recover legal fees.
Holmes is currently serving a life sentence for the crime.
This story has made an appearance in the major daily papers and on websites like nbcnews.com primarily because of its headline impact. Any mention of the Aurora mass shooting draws the public’s attention, and the hefty dollar amount makes for a good moment of outrage. Victims of such a heinous crime made to pay $700 thousand?! But the details of the story, for those who read them, soon reveal the banal mechanisms of yet another legal suit.
Who knows how Cinemark calculated its expenses? It is entirely possible that a line-item accounting can rationalize almost a million dollars in legal fees. And that is the outrage.
The economics of the legal system are inherently absurd, yet so pervasive in our society that the absurdity becomes almost invisible. Until you are involved in a lawsuit. First, a social system that reduces all human experience and all that is valued to a monetary equivalent is, to put it mildly, cutting corners on its commitment to its own humanity. A broken window, a stolen bicycle, a breached contract—such things can usually be stamped with a price tag. A murdered family member, however, or physical or emotional suffering do not lend themselves to computation. Taking money from someone, which usually impacts upon an entire family, and giving it to someone else has little to do with actual resolution or moving forward as a community.
Second, we are not a community. Not in any but the most strained sense of the word. In our capitalist arrangement, where the profit motive determines every facet of life from our child’s education to the look of our cities, from the nature of our art to the health of the planet, we find ourselves competing for our existence and for every moment of health and joy. In a fundamental way, we live against one another at least as much as we are able to succeed in living with one another. Against such a social and psychological backdrop, our legal system functions to illustrate and exacerbate the million and one ways we are pitted against one another.
Third, one particular evil of the capitalist hold on our society is the legal fiction of corporate personhood. Like a matador’s cape, this fiction hides and protects the sociopathic criminals who rise to the top of such a system and who profit from the sale of products that kill us. Including the powerful weapons used by James Holmes at the Century Theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Photo source: syracuse.com