When Bad PR Outranks Liability

When Bad PR Outranks Liability

Within weeks of moving back east from Colorado some years, I saw a story from the Rocky Mountains about a boulder crashed down onto the highway below, killing an ill-fated motorist.

Colorado’s governor at the time, Richard Lamm, promptly issued an apology and condolences to the family.

In a matter of days, legal experts were figuratively jumping down the governor’s throat, warning that he should have never admitted liability.

“Tsk, tsk,” they lectured. “He’s put the state in a bad place. Nothing’s been determined, so he should have never said that.”

Mother of Bad Moves

When Bad PR Outranks Liability | Ken Walker WriterI could imagine the legal team for MGM Resorts channeling those lawyers when I saw the news last week that the company had sued the victims of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock.

Like many, I was shocked when I saw the news of Paddock killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more at a music festival last October. The hideous nature of the crime stuck with me.

But when I read in the Chicago Tribune that MGM had sued victims in at least seven states in a bid to get federal courts to declare the company had no liability for the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, my reaction was one of incredulity.

I wondered who—aside from a legal eagle parsing words beyond reason while determining how many angels can dance on the head of the nearest pin—would think this was a good idea.

Yes, maybe MGM was justified, as their spokesperson said, in getting all the suits moved into federal court. However, did their directors ever consider what they will reap in bad publicity? The kind that money can’t alleviate?

A More Important Court  

It matters not how high one argues their case, or even if they win in the Supreme Court, it’s a different matter in the Court of Public Opinion.

How will people feel as the news of these lawsuits sinks into the minds of survivors of the shootings, the victims’ families, and the public at large?

Probably like Jason McMillan, a 36-year-old Riverside County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and paralyzed—and can’t believe MGM officials “would try to foist blame on anyone but themselves.”

“I just can’t believe the audacity,” McMillan said at a press conference in Southern California where survivors, relatives, and attorneys rallied against MGM’s move.

“I’m not just a victim from the concert,” he added. “I’m a survivor, and they’re not going to get away with anything. We’ll keep this going as long as it takes.”

A Textbook Example

A Textbook Example | Ken Walker WriterI come to this scenario as more than a casual observer of the law.

Although no longer active on a daily basis in reporting on legal matters, I have covered hundreds of trials, as well as writing about lawsuits and other legal minutiae over the years. I still edit a weekly news digest that includes legal issues.

And, while I may be wrong, I have to believe there was a better way for MGM to go about getting lawsuits consolidated into federal court than suing the victims of such a heinous act—people whose only liability was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is the kind of action that I can see winding up in legal journals, discussed in law schools, and dissected by journalists and public relations officials long after everyone involved with this case is dead and gone.

It will be the textbook example of how not to defend a legal case.

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