South by Southwest (often abbreviated as SXSW) is a popular music and film festival held each spring in Austin, Texas. The week-long festival attracts hundreds of thousands of music and film enthusiasts. Like any festival or public event, the promoters and hosts are under an obligation for proper care of the guests in attendance. In 2014, attendees of the SXSW festival experienced a tragedy that many claim could have been prevented.
The 2014 SXSW Accident
In March of 2014, a tragedy shook the festival that would be remembered for years to come. The infamous accident was the result of one man, Rashad Owens. He was driving drunk while on the run from police officers crashing through barricades and striking several attendees of the festival when he injured 22 people and killed 3. SXSW takes place on Austin's downtown city streets, relying on barricades and the redirection of traffic to set boundaries for the festival.
Essentially, all day-to-day city traffic happens just outside festival borders. When Owens was driving, he caught the attention of officers that were on the lookout for DUI offenders. Owens saw the lights in his rearview mirror and took off, drove the wrong way down a downtown street and rammed through barricades set up to prevent vehicles from cutting through the festival. A video released around the time of the accident showed Owens accelerating towards and through the crowd until hitting a parked vehicle, where he was apprehended by police.
In the end, Owens faced charges of capital murder. The family of one of the deceased individuals took up a wrongful death case against the companies that promote and own the rights to SXSW in December of 2014. The lawsuit alleges that SXSW was negligent in their preparation for the festival. It goes on to claim that the steps they took to barricade the road were inadequate and allowed a dangerous opportunity for such a tragedy to happen. In addition to the companies that run SXSW, the lawsuit also names the driver, Rashad Owens, and several other parties.
Since it was initially filed, the lawsuit has seen several developments. The lawsuit at one point named the city of Austin as a Defendent which was eventually dropped. It has also added Club 1808, the bar where Owens consumed alcohol and marijuana. They later allowed him to leave and get behind the wheel of his vehicle. The latest development included naming each individual founder of the SXSW festival as separate defendants. However, shortly thereafter the lawsuit removed the individual names, and reaffirmed its pursuit of SXSW LLC. Dealing with multiple parties which may be responsible for a loss can add layers of complexity to a lawsuit. Given all the changes in the SXSW wrongful death claim thus far, it may take a significant amount of time before the family is able to receive compensation for the loss they suffered.