February 25, 2013

Chicago Wrongful Death Lawsuits Still Pending a Decade After the E2 Nightclub Tragedy

by Levin & Perconti

Many Chicagoans likely remember the E2 nightclub tragedy that resulted in the crushing and asphyxiation deaths of 21 people. As a refresher, on February 17, 2003 fights broke out at the club and the club’s security guards began using pepper spray to break up the brawls, causing a panic that resulted in a stampede down the front stairwell to the ground-floor exit. Sadly, the club was dangerously overcrowded and the exits were insufficient for such a rush of people, causing a huge bottleneck at the bottom of the stairs where the 21 people were either trampled or suffocated at death at the bottom. The witnesses stated that the stack of bodies was nearly six feet high. After this tragedy, there was a considerable amount of outrage in the Chicago community. Authorities determined that the crowd was over 1,150 people however the club should have only had 240 people in it.

There are several wrongful death lawsuits still pending ten years later and many of the families of victims are still looking for closure to this horrifying ordeal. The City of Chicago is also continuing to pursue a case against the club’s co-owners despite the fact that the pair has been cleared of wrongdoing twice already. The two men were sentenced to two years in jail in 2009 when they were found guilty of disobeying a city housing court order not to occupy the second floor of the building where the nightclub was located. However they never served this time because an appellate court later overturned the verdict finding that the court order was ambiguous. The case was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and has yet to be ruled upon.

Victims’ families unsuccessfully sued the city of Chicago in 2008 for botching the rescue effort and failing to enforce the egregious building code violations which ultimately resulted in the overcrowded club and insufficient exits. Despite this setback, many families continue to sue Clear Channel Communications, the entity that employed the DJ who was working the party that night at the E2 nightclub. Many witnesses claim that it was the DJ who instructed the security guard to begin pepper spraying the crowd, which caused the stampede and resulting deaths.

It is important for these families to continue to fight against this tragic act of negligence. All property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe from any dangers and they must follow all pertinent building codes. In this case, the E2 nightclub owners and promoters should have followed Chicago building code and understood that the club was overcrowded and unsafe. When property owners fail in their duties to protect visitors and patrons and someone is injured, victims have a right to hold wrongdoers accountable. Our premises liability attorneys have successfully handled numerous cases and recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients.