Family members of man struck and killed at SXSW Festival appeal wrongful death suit to federal court

By Angela Underwood | Dec 12, 2017

NEW ORLEANS – The mother and child of Steven Craenmehr, who was killed when an allegedly intoxicated driver drove through road block signs into pedestrians in 2014 at the SXSW Festival, has appealed their case to the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals after a district court dismissed their wrongful death suit.

NEW ORLEANS – The mother and child of Steven Craenmehr, who was killed when an allegedly intoxicated driver drove through road block signs into pedestrians in 2014 at the SXSW Festival, has appealed their case to the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals after a district court dismissed their wrongful death suit.

“Given the pleadings addressing the number of errant vehicle incidents in Austin and across the nation, the high number of driving while intoxicated arrests made each year during SXSW, and defendants’ own communications with each other regarding exactly such an event and their drills to prepare for such an event, it is difficult to understand how the district court reached that conclusion,” according to the Nov. 29 appellant brief.

After Craenmehr’s death, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against SXSW Holdings Inc., SXSW LLC, Transportation Design Consultants and the city of Austin for the alleged failure to design and create a safe traffic control pattern to secure the protection for SXSW pedestrians and cyclists during the record-setting attendance of more than 100,000 people, where allegedly intoxicated Rashad Owens failed to see closed street sign and drive into the festival zone, the brief states.

In 2015, SXSW and the Transportation Consultant defendants filed separate motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims that were countered by the plaintiffs' second amended complaint in 2016.

However, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found favor with the both defendants’ motions to dismiss, ruling Owens actions were not predictable releasing the defendants from any possible blame, specifically due to the plaintiffs’ failure to find a specific violation in any traffic ordinance at the festival, which takes place throughout Austin at more than 100 separate venues including churches, hotels, festival centers and bars.

That is when the plaintiffs filed their third amended complaint, this time arguing the City of Austin was negligent and liable for Craenmehr’s death. The City of Austin followed with its own motion to dismiss, and by 2017, the District Court granted the City of Austin’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint, also ruling Owens actions were not predictable.  

The 5th Circuit is asked “scrutinize” the pleadings prudently.

“This court should conclude that such an event was indeed foreseeable, perhaps even probable, and reverse the district court,” according to the Nov. 29 brief.  “A jury should decide whether defendants took reasonable steps to protect the festival-goers such as Craenmehr after luring them into the streets of Austin.”

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