By JUAN A. LOZANO
Updated: December 08, 2021 09:01 PM
Created: December 08, 2021 08:57 PM
HOUSTON (AP) - The more than 300 lawsuits that have been filed so far in Houston following a massive crowd surge at the Astroworld festival that left 10 people dead have been consolidated and will be handled by one judge as the cases proceed through the court system, a judicial board ruled.
In an order issued on Tuesday, the Board of Judges of the Civil Trial Division of the Harris County District Courts in Houston granted a request by attorney Brent Coon to have all pretrial matters in the various lawsuits be handled by one judge. If any of the lawsuits go to trial, the case would return to its original court.
"This consolidation will promote the expeditious and efficient administration of justice," the two-page order said.
All pretrial motions and issues in the lawsuits will be heard by state District Judge Kristen Hawkins.
Those who have been sued include rap superstar Travis Scott, who created the festival and was the headliner, concert promoter Live Nation and other companies connected to the event.
The 10 people who died were among 50,000 who had attended the festival and were in the audience on Nov. 5 when Scott's concert turned deadly as fans surged toward the stage during his set.
The youngest victim was 9-year-old Ezra Blount. The others who died ranged in age from 14 to 27. Some 300 people were injured and treated at the festival site and 25 were taken to hospitals.
Coon, who is representing about 2,000 concertgoers and is asking for $10 billion in damages, made his consolidation request last month. He said Wednesday that having all the cases before one judge will create efficiency, eliminate redundancy and spread costs in the cases to everyone involved in the litigation.
"You don't want to have all the same issues argued and all the same witnesses deposed over and over again in every courtroom," Coon said.
But the consolidation that was granted on Tuesday might conflict with a similar request made by lawyers for ASM Global Parent, Inc. and its subsidiaries, which manage events at NRG Park, where the Astroworld festival was held.
Lawyers for ASM Global have also asked in a motion filed with the Texas Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is overseen by the Texas Supreme Court, to consolidate the lawsuits but assign them to a different Harris County judge, Lauren Reeder.
"Counsel representing more than 2,500 plaintiffs or potential plaintiffs and all principal defendants have agreed to this motion," ASM Global's attorneys said in their motion, which was filed on Dec. 1.
ASM Global's attorneys have asked that all discovery in the lawsuits - when attorneys can request or obtain documents or other information or depose witnesses - be halted until the state panel issues a ruling.
Attorneys for ASM Global didn't immediately return emails on Wednesday seeking comment.
Coon said he believes the company's request is no longer needed. If the state panel were to issue a decision, it would overrule the local order.
"Harris County has already addressed that with this order. So, if the (Texas) Supreme Court did anything now, they would just be meddling," Coon said.
Earlier this week, Scott's attorneys also filed his first response to several of the lawsuits, denying the accusations against him and asking that the cases be dismissed.
Coon said Scott's denial of the accusations and his request for dismissal are standard in such lawsuits and similar to an individual entering a not guilty plea at the start of a criminal case.
Scott and the event organizers are the focus of a criminal investigation by Houston police. No one has been charged, and no timetable has been set for when the investigation would be completed.
Scott's attorney had previously reached out to the families of the 10 who died, offering to pay for their loved ones' funeral costs. Several of the families turned down the offer.
Find the AP's coverage of the Astroworld festival: https://apnews.com/hub/astroworld-festival-deaths
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
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