After a drunk driver hit and killed four people at the festival in March, SXSW faces multiple lawsuits alleging lack of safety precautions. The lawsuits claim the two companies that own SXSW could have done more to prevent the incident.
A March 2014 car crash left four people dead and dozens more injured at Austin’s SXSW festival, and now the first wave of lawsuits have been filed. The families of those who died or were injured in the crash filed seven separate lawsuits against SXSW organizers.
The lawsuits claim that festival officials failed to adequately protect festival-goers from harm when Rashad Charjuan Owens slammed his car through a police barricade. Those who are suing the companies say they should have built more “rigid barriers” for protection.
The crash happened after Owens fled from police during a traffic stop at midnight. Police later discovered that Owens had a blood alcohol level of .114 when he was arrested after the crash. The legal blood alcohol limit to drive in the state is .08, meaning Owens was far above this limit when he crashed.
Those who were killed or injured in March were wandering around the outdoor clubs that set up shop during the festival’s peak. Hundreds of people gather every year to catch events scheduled around the festival. While many of these events are not part of the official festival itself, they are a main attraction for tourists at night.
When Owens broke through the police barrier that was meant to keep pedestrians safe on the other side, he hit dozens of people. Those who were harmed by the incident say the festival did not follow industry standards on its barrier, since the barrier failed to stop the vehicle from breaking through.
One lawsuit says:
A festival organizer or traffic design consultant of ordinary intelligence would have anticipated the danger.
Lawyers representing the two companies that own SXSW have yet to comment on the claims in the lawsuits. However, they released a statement expressing sympathy for those who lost loved ones in the crash:
What happened on Red River was a terrible tragedy, caused by Rashad Owen’s utter disregard of human life. Our hearts continue to ache for those injured and the families of those who lost their lives. We look forward to his prosecution for his awful crimes.
Owens is currently in prison for capital murder charges.
The lawsuits claim unspecified damages, meaning that they are leaving it up to the court to decide a fair amount in the event they win.
This news comes on the heels of SXSW requesting the city of Austin to limit the number of permits they issue unofficial events during the festival. In a statement, SXSW officials said:
SXSW, the unofficial events, and the City all need transparency in order to plan for safety properly.
They also claimed that these unofficial events lead to overcrowding, saying:
Parts of 6th Street are severely overcrowded and can’t support more pop-up events. The majority of the unofficial events are in existing businesses and this would not affect them.
SXSW has not confirmed whether it will make changes to its safety plan this March in light of these lawsuits.