In 2017, hip-hop shows are as wild as they've ever been. Taking a page out of punk rock's book, rappers have been making headlines with dangerous stage dives—one-upping each other by jumping off of increasingly high structures.
So far, these jumps have been successful and injury-free, but as the stakes continue to rise, it's worth asking: What happens if a performer takes things too far and something goes wrong? Who is liable if someone gets hurt? How much money could these guys lose if an injured fan sues them?
Dangerous stage dives are a relatively new trend in hip-hop, thanks to recent jumps from guys like Lil Uzi Vert, Jazz Cartier, and XXXTENTACION, but there is a precedent for jump-related lawsuits at rock and electronic shows.
"There have been several lawsuits by fans alleging serious injuries such as a fractured skull, broken neck, and broken collarbone from stage diving," Purtell explains. "The potential expense of the lawsuit is correlated to the severity of the physical and economic injuries to the victim." He adds, "Serious injury claims typically seek millions in compensation."
"As an example, Fishbone's lead singer dove into the crowd during a show here in Philadelphia in 2010 and landed on a person, breaking her skull and collarbone," Purtell continues. "The lead singer and his business partner were ordered to pay $1.1 million in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages." In another unnamed instance, he notes, "There was a lawsuit a few years back against a venue where an attendee was injured and sought $14 million in the lawsuit."
Determining who is liable for these claims gets a little trickier. Meiselman stresses that laws are different state by state and these things are "never clear cut or obvious."
"Multiple parties can certainly be liable, but this would likely come down to what kinds of agreements are in place between the venue and the promoter or the promoter and the performer," Meiselman says. "If it is well known that the performer engages in stunts like this, it can be argued that the fan has assumed some risk by attending the concert. But ultimately, even if he/she assumed some risk, if he/she is seriously injured, a court probably wouldn't agree that they've waived their right to file suit against responsible parties."
Purtell explains that lawsuits "have typically been brought against the performer, the performer's management, and the venue." He adds, "Ultimately, liability will be determined by a jury that assigns a percentage of fault to each of the parties involved. Depending on the specific facts of the case, liability could be apportioned differently and, in some states, multiple parties could be liable for some or all of the victim's injuries. At the end of the day, all parties involved in the show would have potential liability."
In 2016, a fan sued a Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego for $10.7 million after they suffered a concussion and broken neck when Steve Aoki jumped on top of them. During the trial, they asked the jury to assign 10 percent of the responsibility to Aoki. The fan lost the case, but they did reach a confidential settlement with Aoki out of court for an undisclosed amount.
If they know they're going to engage in this kind of activity, it's be smart to negotiate a clause in their agreement with the venue or promoter that requires the venue or promoter to assume liability
If Lil Uzi Vert had injured someone at his recent jump at Rolling Loud festival this year, Meiselman tells me, "The fan probably has a claim against Uzi or the venue security for failing to prevent this kind of thing from happening."
Meiselman says that in certain cases, however, fans waive their rights by attending shows in the first place, explaining, "Basically, the bottom line in situations like this is that there are certain things you waive your right to make a claim on when you agree to go to a concert."
But if the injury is severe enough, the fan usually has a case. Meiselman says, "For example, you might be precluded from making a claim against someone for shoving you during the show, but if you are knocked out and require serious medical attention, it's unlikely a court would hold that you've waived your right to sue for damages."
So, what happens if a performer injures themselves?
Purtell suggests a lawsuit would be unlikely in a situation like this, explaining, "In most cases, this would not be the subject of a lawsuit because the performer made a knowing decision to jump and assumed the risk of his or her actions."
Depending on the wording of specific contracts, certain venues could be liable for the injuries of a performer, but Meiselman points out, "If the performer is acting negligently or unlawfully, their actions can be outside of the scope of any agreement they have in place, making them responsible for their injuries."
Finally, I ask Purtell if he believes stage diving is worth the legal and safety risks involved, and he responds, "Personally, too many people have been seriously injured for stage diving to be permitted, let alone encouraged."
If performers are determined to stage dive at their shows, Meiselman suggests, "If they know they're going to engage in this kind of activity, it's be smart to negotiate a clause in their agreement with the venue or promoter that requires the venue or promoter to assume liability for any injuries caused during the performance."
Daniel Purtell is an attorney at Philadelphia law firm McEldrew Young who represents victims and families in catastrophic injury and wrongful death lawsuits.
Jessica Meiselman is an entertainment lawyer and writer.