On Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, after several years of litigation, a Dekalb County, Georgia, jury awarded $160 million against Sony for its role in failing to protect patrons at a concert in the Underground Atlanta, Masquerade venue in downtown Atlanta.
On the night of Nov. 12, 2017, a gunman entered the concert venue and, after picking fights with patrons, later opened fire in the crowded venue. Four people were shot, and Giovan Diaz, 22, and Ewell Ynoa, 21, died from catastrophic gunshot wounds. The gunfire erupted just as the main act was set to take the stage at the venue. Witnesses testified that Diaz and Ynoa – Gio and Wells, to their friends – were on the cusp of breaking through in the music industry before their deaths. Those attending the trial said their suffering was horrific before they died.
Beasley Allen Atlanta lawyer Parker Miller served as lead trial counsel in the litigation. “This verdict represents an incredible day of justice for our clients and for the safety of all people that attend concerts across America,” he said. Miller discussed how the case’s unique nature led to the verdict.
“Obviously, these types of cases do not come around often. This was a mass shooting in a crowded concert. There were multiple deaths, and Gio and Wells suffered significantly before losing their fight for life, as eyewitnesses outlined. The trial was incredibly emotional because of what these families, and the world, lost. One of these men had been told he would be a father just a few hours before the shooting happened. Combine that with the fact the concert endangered everyone, and this Defendant refused to participate in the legal process, and you get the type of verdict we saw here.”
Also, part of the trial team was leading trial and appellate lawyer Darren Summerville of The Summerville Firm, out of Atlanta.
“I have been litigating cases for a long time in Georgia, but I am struggling to identify another case as emotional or heartbreaking as this one was,” he said. “Juries don’t award these types of verdicts unless there is a confluence of circumstances, which was the case here. Our system has always turned to our citizens to lend a voice when a company endangers others with wholly unnecessary suffering and death. Just as importantly, ignoring the legal process always represents a risk for an entity that thinks it need not participate.”
The team also included Madeline Summerville of Georgia Trial Consulting, specializing in juror research and selection. Ms. Summerville noted “in a case like this one, involving the deaths of two inspirational young people, finding the right jurors is all the more important.”
Tiffany M. Simmons, managing partner of Simmons Law in Atlanta, Georgia, was originally retained by the clients and served on the team. She echoed the comments from the trial.
“There is no excuse for how poorly secured this production was,” she said. “These men had over a hundred years of life expectancy left between them. They had their entire music careers before them. We are humbled by the jury’s decision, and we hope this sends a message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”
The trial consisted of two previously consolidated cases. They included Rachel St. Fleur, et. al, v. Sony Music Holdings, Inc., et al., case number 18A69571, and Xavier Diaz, et al., v. Sony Music Holdings, Inc., case number 19A77518.