Gwen Stefani faces a jury trial over a woman trampled when the pop star invited thousands of concert-goers to move closer to the stage during a 2016 concert.
Stefani’s summary judgment claim that her First Amendment free speech rights immunized her from tort liability in the personal injury suit garnered no support in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
Stefani argued her on-stage statements at the PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte, N.C., didn’t fall into one of several exceptions to the First Amendment, such as no protection for libel or calls of incitement to riot. Consequently, her free speech rights applied.
But the court held nothing immunizes the former lead singer of the band “No Doubt” to blanket protection of negligent speech that results in foreseeable bodily injury, and that Lisa Stricklin’s claims could proceed to trial.
Stricklin broke her leg in the “stampede crowd rush” that followed Stefani’s get-closer comments at the 18,768-seat arena, which included people in 10,154 lawn seats farther from the stage than Stricklin’s reserved seat, according to the decision.
She sued both Stefani and Live Nation Entertainment Inc., the operator of the arena, alleging their negligent failure to protect her resulted in permanent injuries.
Rather than argue a lack of negligence, “Stefani attempt to circumvent the issue of her alleged negligence altogether” by asserting her concert stage statement amounted to constitutionally protected speech.
But the court found that Stefani’s statement, rather than being protected idea-related speech, was meant to produce “immediate action” by thousands of concert-goers that could foreseeably result in injury.
Live Nation, however, won summary judgment.
The entertainment company owed no duty to protect Stricklin from the allegedly unforeseeable and wrongful acts of third parties, here Stefani and patrons who descended to the stage.
Live Nation had no notice Stefani would invite lawn patrons to sit closer to the stage and no evidence had been presented showing its extensive crowd control measures were inadequate, the court said.
Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. wrote the opinion.
The law offices of Larry Economos represented Stricklin. Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP represented Stefani. Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP represented Live Nation.
The case is Stricklin v. Stefani, 2018 BL 466203, W.D.N.C., No. 17-cv-00397, 12/17/18.
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