In two lawsuits filed in U.S. District court on Friday, victims Denise Traynom, Brandon Axelrod and Joshua Nowlan say the exit door used by the gunman should have been equipped with an alarm and that the theater was negligent in failing to provide security or a proper evacuation.
The suits are being brought against Cinemark USA, a subsidiary of Cinemark Holdings (NYSE: CNK), which owns the theater where the violence took place.
The suit is thought to be the first civil lawsuit in connection with the incident that took place on July 20, leaving 12 people dead and dozens more injured in Aurora, Colo., according to Reuters. Less than a week after the shooting, TMZ reported that an uninjured man, Terrence Brown Jr., was threatening to sue the theater chain for “extreme trauma” after he witnessed his best friend killed in the massacre, but no further news has been reported.
In Friday's suit, the Denver-based law firm of Keating, Wagner, Polidori and Free said that “readily available security procedures, security equipment and security personnel would likely have prevented or deterred the gunman from accomplishing his planned assault on the theater's patrons.”
The victims say security personnel should have been present at the premiere of the Batman movie, given the time and nature of the event. “Although the theater was showing a midnight premiere of the movie and was expecting large crowds of people to attend the midnight showing, no security personnel were present for that showing,” the lawsuit noted.
A spokesperson for Cinemark did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The alleged shooter is 24-year-old James Holmes, a former neuroscience student. Holmes’ prosecutors say he bought a ticket to the Christopher Nolan-directed movie and then left through the back exit, keeping the door propped open before reentering with gas canisters and guns. Defense attorneys say Holmes suffers from mental illness and had sought help before the incident.
The lawsuits were filed on the same day Cinemark announced that the theater would be open for business again in early 2013, following renovations and a remodel. In a statement, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said response from the community indicates “overwhelming support” to reopen the theater.
“We will always remember those who lost their lives and the many others impacted that day. While no one will ever forget that day, this is another step in the community’s healing,” Hogan added.
Traynom was shot in the buttocks during the “Dark Knight” massacre, and Axelrod was shot in the right knee and ankle. Nowlan’s right arm was nearly severed from the gunshots, according to the lawsuit. In all, 58 people were wounded in the rampage, making it one of the most violent in American history.