- Legal experts say it’s almost certain that some victims of the Las Vegas shooting will attempt to hold the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino liable in court. The shooter stayed in the hotel for three days, stockpiling 23 weapons. Even if the hotel staff couldn’t have prevented the shooting, it could be used to argue that hotels need to take stronger measures to prevent mass shootings.
Three days after checking into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
Paddock stockpiled weapons in his hotel room before firing from the windows of his suite on the 32nd floor into the crowd of 22,000 people across the street, killing 58 people and wounding about 500 others.
It’s extremely likely that victims of the shooting will try to hold the Mandalay Bay accountable by bringing lawsuits against the company, seeking damages for things like medical expenses or disabilities resulting from the shooting, say legal experts who spoke with Business Insider. If that happens, however, it could force the hotel industry to take on new levels of responsibility for guests’ behavior, raising questions about their privacy.
Whether such a lawsuit would have merit would depend on many factors that remain unknown to the public. It might also require courts to break legal ground in terms of assigning liability for mass shootings that are becoming more common.
MGM Resorts, which operates the Mandalay Bay, declined to comment on legal issues. Debra DeShong, a representative for the company, told Business Insider in an email that the company “works consistently with local and national law enforcement agencies to keep procedures at our resorts up to date” and was “always improving and evolving.”
Here’s what we know about what happened at the Mandalay Bay in the days before the shooting – and the factors that are likely to come into play in any discussion of its liability.
Potential warning signs
- Bild exclusive/Polaris
In the days after Paddock checked into the hotel, he brought at least 10 suitcases filled with firearms into his room. Investigators have found 23 guns, including AR-15-style and AK-47-style rifles, in the room.
Police officials said Paddock also constructed an elaborate surveillance system in the hotel, placing two cameras in the hallway outside his suite – one was on a service cart – as well as a camera in his door’s peephole.
From the moment Paddock arrived at the hotel, employees would have been trained to report any suspicious behavior from him that they saw, said Dick Hudak, a managing partner of Resort Security Consulting.
“He gave [them] a clue there that something bad was going to happen,” Hudak, a former FBI agent who was previously the director of security at Sheraton, said of the cameras. The Mandalay Bay’s employees “didn’t pick it up,” he added.
The hotel’s staff did not notice any suspicious behavior, a Mandalay Bay employee told The New York Times. Paddock reportedly had a “do not disturb” sign on his door all three days so no housekeeping staff members entered the room.
But the case that the Mandalay Bay should be held legally liable for the shooting would be based on facts that are still publicly unknown – like whether the sign indeed kept all employees out of the room the entire time Paddock was staying there.
“If housekeeping goes into a room and it’s littered with rifles, that’s different than them seeing a gun where open carry is legal,” said Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law School.
Could a doorman have noticed the number of bags Paddock was bringing in and failed to say something? Were the hotel’s windows insufficiently sturdy, allowing Paddock to break them with a hammer? Were security staff members diligent in their rounds of the hotel, or did they fail to report the cameras?
Right now, the answers to those questions aren’t known.
Unwittingly hosting a shooter or missing something that’s a red flag only in retrospect is not enough to hold MGM Resorts legally liable. But Feldman and Hudak say there are enough questions that a victim or their family could file a suit to dig for the answers.
Setting a precedent
Even if there weren’t any opportunities for the Mandalay Bay’s staff to prevent the shooting, there is another argument plaintiffs could make that the hotel should be held liable.
As more mass shootings take place in the US, it’s increasingly likely attorneys can argue that hotels and other venues should see the potential for such a crime and make systematic changes to prevent it.
“It becomes more and more foreseeable if you operate certain types of venues, those venues will be seen as opportunities for mass shootings,” Feldman said.
- REUTERS/Chris Wattie
“Foreseeability is one of the key components of liability,” Hudak said.
Currently, the industry has no national standards for security, and hotels aren’t typically held accountable for guests’ behavior.
However, Feldman says it’s “entirely feasible” that an attorney would make this argument based on the fact that mass shootings have taken place at other entertainment venues.
If a certain type of crime is established as regularly occurring on certain premises, then any player in the industry could be held legally liable if it didn’t take preventative measures. Fear of this type of lawsuit has helped persuade some hotels to put up signs telling guests to store valuable items in safes, and some malls to put security guards in parking lots after dark.
“What happened on Sunday is sort of a larger wake-up call for the industry to take a step back and ask themselves: ‘What about my city? What am I doing to make sure that … my guests are safe and secure?'” said Deanna Ting, the hospitality editor at the travel-industry intelligence company Skift.
The Wynn resort in Las Vegas added new security measures after the shooting, scanning guests with metal detectors and putting bags through X-ray machines. Moving forward, hotels may retrain employees, institute random background checks on guests, or require customers to sign paperwork stating they won’t bring weapons on the premises.
If the US doesn’t enact stricter gun laws, some places may take measures to ensure they couldn’t be held legally responsible for a shooting, Feldman said.
“If Congress isn’t regulating gun ownership, it is going to be private parties … who end up regulating their own premises,” she said.
What happens next
- Getty Images/Drew Angerer
A case against the Mandalay Bay wouldn’t be resolved overnight.
If a suit were filed against the hotel, it’s likely it would settle instead of taking the case to court, Feldman said. After all, the Mandalay Bay and MGM Resorts certainly don’t want to be seen as heartless in their treatment of victims.
A complicated set of laws prevents gunmakers from being held legally liable in most mass shootings, meaning many victims and their attorneys would end up looking elsewhere for compensation.
Paddock’s estate would be held liable if a suit were filed in civil court, though there most likely would not be enough money to pay the estimated millions of dollars that would be owed in damages.
A fund for the victims as of Thursday had raised more than $9 million that will be divided among them in some manner.
Still, attorneys for the hundreds the people affected by the shooting would most likely consider other lawsuits, as children whose parents have died may need money for school, victims with disabilities may seek funds for support, and people who were injured may need to pay hospital bills.