Surviving Concerts…and their terms

by Koka Tarini Siddhartha 

In light of recent incidents at raves and music festivals across the globe, we turn our attention to accidents and injuries sustained by concert-goers, and the parties liable for the same.

What’s the scoop?

Surely, Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa fans would have heard about this by now — at a joint concert at Camden, New Jersey, a railing collapsed, injuring seventeen people. Lawyers representing the injured have filed a suit against the rappers as well as the owner of the venue.

Sadly, this is just one of many disasters occurring at concert venues in the past. The infamous ‘death at a concert’ took place at Cincinnati in 1979, where concert-goers were so keen to watch British band ‘The Who’ perform that it resulted in a stampede ending with the death of eleven people.

However, badly constructed structures and poor crowd management are not the only reasons for tragedy at concerts. Earlier this year, at the HARD Summer Music Festival in Los Angeles, three concert-goers perished owing to a drug overdose. At the recent MTV concert in Londonderry, thirty people were treated at hospitals for drug and alcohol related conditions.

So, who is ultimately liable for such injuries?

Most concert-goers who suffer from injuries caused through no fault of their own either slap a lawsuit on the concert organizers or the artist, and sometimes on both! With several music festivals taking place each year in India and abroad, concert organizers are cautious to avoid any kind of disaster or hazardous situation.

If you have recently attended a concert or a music festival, go find your ticket and read the ‘Terms and Conditions’ section. Rarely do people ever acknowledge or take note of these terms which are binding on all concert-goers by virtue of buying the ticket.

For example, one of the common terms is, “Consumption and possession of narcotics is strictly prohibited and those found possessing or consuming the same at the event will be immediately handed over to the anti-narcotics police.”

Usually, the most obvious party to sue will be the concert organizers. They are obligated to ensure safety measures are in place and that the venue poses no risk to concert-goers. Even though the structures and stages are built for temporary use, they must be sturdy. Any harm from electrical wires, poor crowd management or insufficient number of guards can render the organizers liable.

Sometimes, concert-goers pursue legal action against the artist or band and even win! This is because when an artist or band agrees to perform at a venue where the security is poor or the infrastructure is unsatisfactory, they take on the responsibility of any legal charges that may arise.

This is where the importance of a strong contract between the artist and concert organizer makes a difference. A well-drafted contract will ensure that the artist or band is not held responsible for any damages or injuries that occur at the venue.

How does one avoid such liability?

As already mentioned, organizers try to avoid any kind of liability through their disclaimers on the ticket. Additionally, they tend to procure liability insurance, to protect them from any liability in the event that they are sued by concert-goers owing to an injury or inconvenience caused.

To conduct a concert or festival, the organizers need to obtain permissions from the local government. This implies that any requirement for security during the course of the event must be negotiated with the local government or council. Even for the sale of alcohol at the venue, a license from the government is a necessity.

Prevention of alcohol-related conditions (such as high levels of intoxication, losing consciousness and even engaging in physical fights) can be facilitated by not allowing a person below the age of eighteen to enter the premises and by abstaining from the sale of alcohol to people who are highly inebriated.

How does one control the drug situation?

Issues around drug use can be compared to those around crime. There is legislation in place to punish someone for a crime, but that does not stop someone from committing a crime. Similarly, while the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, provides for the confiscation of drugs along with a fine or jail term, people continue to consume drugs.

Despite these laws, the organizers’ strict rules, and the process of screening every concert-goer, drugs somehow end up being peddled at venues. Earlier in this post, we mentioned the deaths of people at concerts due to drug overdoses. Unfortunately, the human mentality works in a way where the more you say no to a person, the more they want to do that particular thing.

While we do not in any way advocate the use of drugs, it is pertinent to mention the system followed in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. At many concerts hosted in these countries, a ‘safe haven’ is set up, which has a cooling zone to calm oneself, a service to check the drugs used are safe and unadulterated, and even welfare support (Shambhala Music Festival). By assuming this model as opposed to the one punishing drug users (which will only result in a higher demand for underground events that are less secure and more likely to result in deaths), concerts could not just be made safer but there will be less liability on organizers as well.

Music concerts and festivals are notorious for accidents. Organizers have the responsibility of ensuring the safety of both the performing artists as well as the fans. They must implement the highest health and safety measures, security arrangements, identify pieces of equipment that are potentially hazardous and secure them, and most importantly, the entry and exit points at the venue must be obvious and clear as the sky on a sunny day.

Countries like Australia are quite advanced in this area. They have even come up with specific guidelines for concerts, events and organized gatherings. Perhaps we can adopt these, or draft similar guidelines for Indian concerts and raves as well!


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