Government Law

Chicago Not Liable in 21 Nightclub Deaths; No 'Willful and Wanton' Conduct

Chicago cannot be held liable for the deaths of 21 patrons in a 2003 nightclub disaster that injured dozens more, because it cannot be shown that the city’s conduct was “willful and wanton,” a state appeals court ruled today.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the city knew of dangerous building code violations in the E2 nightclub and did nothing, and that the emergency response to the disaster was deficient, reports the Chicago Tribune. However, the 1st District Appellate Court said in a written opinion that Chicago isn’t responsible for the disaster, in which patrons, fleeing pepper spray reportedly used by private security guards trying to break up a fight on the second-floor nightclub, stampeded into an exit stairwell leading down to a street-level entrance that became a deathtrap.

Attorney Melvin Brooks, who represents a number of the plaintiffs, says an Illinois Supreme Court appeal is likely.

A similar stampede, from a fast-moving fire, only a few days later at a Rhode Island nightclub helped cause the deaths of more than 100 people there in 2003. That case is still being litigated, but settlements so far top $100 million, as discussed in a recent post.

Related coverage:

Chicago Sun-Times: ” Rules inspired by E2 stampede approved”

CNN (2003): “Chicago overwhelmed by nightclub deaths”

NBC News (2003): “Epitome Night Club Was Operating In Violation Of Court Order”

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