November 26, 2012

After Hospitalizations at Avicii, Cornell Confronts Concert Liability

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Six people were hospitalized at an Avicii concert in September, raising both legal and health concerns about on-campus concerts at Cornell. University officials said that while Cornell is not legally responsible for students’ reckless actions, several measures — including moving the day of the Homecoming Concert — are being considered as a result.

A concert attendee at an on-campus show would likely be held legally responsible for any injuries — or even death — resulting from overdose or intoxication, Craig McAllister, director of risk management, said in an email.

“I think at this age, these college students, they really need to be able to take the responsibility themselves — and that was not there for Avicii,” said Joe Scaffido, CCC’s faculty advisor.

Scaffido said he was “shocked” to witness two people carrying a clearly unconscious friend into the Avicii concert ticket line. He said he assisted them to the sidewalk to await an EMS crew.

“It was really disturbing to see that these students didn’t think to call somebody and say ‘my friend needs help,’ and instead were dragging them into the concert,” Scaffido said.

Although CCC maintains the right to escort people out of events when their degree of intoxication becomes a safety concern, they cannot refuse entrance to students who are drunk, according to Dave Rodriguez ‘13, executive director of CCC.

“We’re college kids — college kids are going to drink,” Rodriguez said. “And who’s to say that someone who might have had a few drinks isn’t still comfortable and able to handle themselves?”

Scaffido echoed these sentiments.

“It’s very difficult to tell a student that they can’t come in because they’re intoxicated. It’s really not our role,” he said.

Even if intoxicated students enter the event, as a registered student organization, CCC is covered under the University’s liability insurance, according to Scaffido. However, since concerts are considered “high risk,” CCC also purchases its own additional insurance for concerts, he said.

Though this insurance doesnot protect CCC from what Scaffido called “personal issues” stemming from alcohol or drug use, it would cover “gross negligence” — for instance, in the event of a falling speaker or a stage collapse, Rodriguez said.

In light of incidents, such as high-profile stage collapses in Indiana and Canada, general concert liability has come under national scrutiny in recent years, according to Scaffido.

A stage collapse during a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair — which resulted in five deaths — prompted Cornell to ask CCC to take measures to ensure that such an accident would not happen at one of their shows, Scaffido said.

“The next morning [after that collapse], the person that we use for production in Rochester, he called me and wanted to talk about the stage for our show,” Scaffido added.

Still, injuries outside of the University’s control can happen, McAllister said.

“The University would take responsibility for injuries resulting from its own fault, but not for injuries caused by others or by the injured person’s own conduct,” he said.

Still, in a continued effort to maximize student safety, CCC is considering scrapping the Saturday night Homecoming concert in the future. The group may opt to hold a concert either the weekend prior to or following game day, according to Rodriguez.

“That’s really based off the way that students handled themselves. So many people were intoxicated, damage was done to [Barton Hall] and, really, it’s not worth the risk,” Rodriguez said.

Cornell police is also spread thin during Homecoming weekend — an additional reason to move the day of the concert, according to CUPD Chief Kathy Zoner.

“It’s a bit of stretch for our staff to be the sole provider of security support for the Concert Commission … The sheer number of Homecoming weekend events that needed police staffing really stretched our resources,” Zoner said.

Besides potential Homecoming concert changes, CCC has already adopted new security measures in an attempt to thwart some of the hospitalizations that arose during the Avicii show.

For the Nas concert held earlier this month in Barton Hall, CCC had additional staff and security for line and crowd control. Additionally, the bleachers that had been pooped on during the Avicii concert were closed off, and extra police officers were hired to survey the Statler Hotel to prevent damages, Rodriguez said.

“Statler had some really bad things happen after the Avicii concert and we didn’t want that to happen again,” Scaffido said, Scaffido said parts of the Statler Hotel were vandalized during the night of the concert.

Measures already in place to ensure safety at CCC shows include paid CUPD staff, an EMS presence, free water to prevent dehydration, pat-downs and bag checks at the door to ensure alcohol doesn’t enter the venue and crowd management training for CCC executive board members and crew heads, according to Rodriguez.

“Obviously we’re students throwing these concerts, we’re not medical professionals. We’re not police. But we do the best we can,” he said.

Original Author: Lianne Bornfeld