Find A Lawyer Legal Articles Attorney Login

Crowd Surges at Concerts and Events

Legal rights and options for victims of injuries at concerts

A crowd surge is simply a large group of people moving quickly, unexpectedly, and often dangerously with respect to people caught in the crowd. Crowd surges have happened as long as there have been large events – concerts, sporting events, festivals, religious observances, and even holiday shopping.

Event organizers, promoters, and performers are responsible for maintaining a safe environment at an event. When that responsibility is not met, people harmed in a crowd surge may have legal recourse.

How a crowd surge happens

Although crowd surges are sometimes colloquially described as “stampedes,” there are few incidents of people being trampled to death in a panic. Rather, the danger in a crowd surge usually comes from the inability to move or breathe. Bodies compress against other bodies, pushing forward and backward. In some situations, people at the front of the crowd are pressed against a barrier or stage; in others, people in the middle are squeezed between the rear of the crowd pressing forward and people from the front trying to escape. If people have fallen and caused a pileup, there can even be pressure from above as well.

This can lead to “compressive asphyxia” – inability to breathe because of being squeezed – which can be fatal. Survivors talk about pressure on their back, chest, and sides that makes breathing difficult.

When the crowd becomes dense enough, shock waves can pass through the mass of people, literally lifting some out of their shoes or throwing them through the air. In venues with multiple levels of seating or balconies, the force of a crowd can cause people to fall and be injured. The combined heat of thousands of bodies can also cause victims to overheat and pass out, and there’s no good way to reach them once they’re on the ground. Victims may be removed from danger via “crowdsurfing” – being passed from person to person, hand to hand, across the top of the crowd.

This brings up an important point: a crowd surge is usually not a mass panic with people injuring each other in a dash for the exits. Rather, people in the midst of a crowd surge often try to help one another, such as by administering first aid and CPR, even at risk to themselves.

Examples of fatal crowd surges

In December 1979, 11 people died as a crowd scrambled to enter a concert by The Who in Cincinnati, Ohio. A decade later, in Hillsborough, England, 96 people died in a human crush trying to enter a soccer game.

On November 5, 2021, a crowd surge during Travis Scott’s performance at the Astroworld Festival in Houston caused at least eight deaths and hundreds of injuries. The tragedy began just after 9 PM when the packed crowd of over 50,000 people moved toward the stage. People at the front of the crowd were pressed together, unable to breathe. Over 300 people were treated for injuries at a field hospital set up near the event, with dozens being sent to area hospitals, at least 11 of whom experienced cardiac arrest.

The causes of the Astroworld incident are still under investigation as of this writing, but it’s worth noting that this is not the first time people have been seriously hurt at a Travis Scott concert. In 2017, a man was paralyzed after being allegedly pushed from a third-floor balcony at a Scott performance in Manhattan. The same year, Scott was arrested in Arkansas for allegedly inciting a riot at a performance when he “encouraged people to rush the stage,” according to police.

What causes a crowd surge?

The single biggest contributing factor in crowd surges is crowd density, not just crowd size. When people are packed closely together – the danger begins at about four people per square meter – there is always the potential for a crowd surge. The crowd’s overall level of energy and excitement also plays a role. In the case of the Astroworld Festival, the risk of a surge may have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: the 2020 festival had been canceled, and live events in general had been severely curtailed, so there was dramatically increased anticipation for the 2021 event.

That said, there usually has to be a trigger; a large crowd generally doesn’t just start moving all in one direction of its own accord. Sometimes, the crowd runs for cover because of rain, snow, or hail, or runs away from a real or perceived threat – think of someone yelling “fire!” or “gun!” In other cases, the crowd moves toward something, such as a performer on a stage.

The risk of a crowd surge is also exacerbated by poor crowd management systems. Event organizers need to put procedures in place to spot the signs of a deadly surge. Large events need trained crowd spotters who can take prompt action, such as temporarily stopping a performance to help calm the crowd.

Who can be held liable for a crowd surge?

We refer to these events as “surges” rather than “stampedes” or “panics” because a surge is usually not the fault of the people in the crowd. Rather, surges are caused by event planners and organizers that fail to provide a safe environment.

Some of the potentially liable parties in a crowd surge scenario include:

  • A performer who did something to incite or rile up the crowd, or explicitly encouraged the crowd to move toward the stage.
  • The venue where the event took place.
  • The organizers and promoters of the event.
  • Third parties that were contracted to provide services at the event, such as security companies.
  • Local government.

Promoters often contribute to crowd surges through “festival seating,” a first-come, first-serve approach to ticketing that packs people in, shoulder-to-shoulder, with just two square feet of room per person. In addition to contributing to the overall density of the crowd, festival seating also encourages fans to line up early to get closer to the performance, which again contributes to the energy and anticipation of the event.

Providing a safe environment at a concert is about more than just physical space and security presence; it’s about proactively managing the crowd and having personnel in the right positions to respond to dangers. No matter how many police and security officers are on-site, if they are all on the perimeter and not interspersed within the crowd itself, there is little they can do to stop a crowd surge from occurring.

Lawsuits and claims for people injured by crowd surges

The cost of an injury sustained in a crowd surge can be significant. Victims who sustain crush injuries or cardiac arrest may have a lengthy recovery period, with significant medical expenses and lost earnings. Permanent injuries, such as traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, can also occur in crowd surge situations. Beyond the physical damage, being caught in a crowd surge is an intensely traumatic event, and victims may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental injuries as a result.

It's also significant that crowd surge victims at events like concerts are often quite young – some of the Astroworld victims were children and teens – and have many decades of life ahead of them. Their long-term losses from a permanent injury, whether physical or mental, can easily stretch into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Survivors who sustain injuries in crowd surges may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party – whether that’s the performer, event organizer, promoter, venue, or some combination of the above. Families of those killed in crowd surges can likewise file a wrongful death claim for damages.

Talk to an experienced concert injury lawyer about your options

In the chaotic aftermath of a crowd surge event, victims and their families need legal representation to explore their options. An injury attorney can conduct an independent, in-depth investigation focused on finding out exactly why a person was injured and who was responsible. (In contrast, investigations carried out by law enforcement are primarily focused on criminal liability and preventing future incidents.) An attorney can also explain your legal options, make sure all applicable deadlines are met, and pursue full compensation while you focus on getting better.

There’s no cost to talk to a lawyer, and no obligation to file a lawsuit or take other legal action, just answers about your legal rights and options. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a crowd surge incident, contact an attorney in your area today.

Crowd Surge Injuries Personal Injury Assistance
Smith & Hassler
Power Profile

Founded in 1989 by attorneys Michael Smith and Al Hassler, Smith & Hassler is a personal injury law firm dedicated to fighting for injured Houstonians. We have decades of experien...

Tracey Fox & Walters

At Tracey Fox & Walters, our focus is on serious accidents and complex litigation. No case is too complicated, and no company is too big, for our skilled and experienced lawyers.