In 2014, a drunk driver plowed through late-night music fans on Red River Street during SXSW. The car smashed into multiple pedestrians, a taxi, a moped, a bicycle and a van before coming to a halt. Four pedestrians died and at least 23 others sustained injuries before the driver was caught.
While the driver was convicted for capital murder and is expected to serve life in prison, a separate civil damages claim was made against the companies that host the festival itself, including South by Southwest Holdings, SXSW LLC and a traffic planning consultant who was hired to design the road closures for the annual festival.
Was the Judge’s Verdict for the SXSW Car Crash Fair to the Victims?
The lawsuit against the companies claimed the festival organizers could have anticipated the collision in light of prior “errant vehicle” incidents in the downtown area. However, a judge dismissed the claims filed by surviving family members who lost their loved ones that night, saying the arguments failed to state claims that were anything more than speculation. Moreover, the judge concluded the organizers could not reasonably predict a random crime.
However, maybe the claimants are onto something. More than 84,000 people were registered to attend last year, but this number is just the people that held badges and does not include the number of people that attended unofficial SXSW events.
Since the drunk driving accident in 2014, the city has implemented numerous safety changes, including increasing the number of road barricades. Additionally, the city stepped up its enforcement of safety ordinances for venues and roads. New lighting and cameras have also been installed on major festival corridors, such as Sixth Street. Though, it could be argued that these safety ordinances should have been recommended by SXSW organizers to begin with. Given the size and the nature of this type of festival, the organizers and the city must be doing more to protect its attendants and Austin residents.