MGM Resorts Sues 1,000 Victims of Las Vegas Shooting, Seeking to Avoid Liability

MGM Resorts International, which owns the Mandalay Bay hotel, wants a federal court to rule that it can’t be held liable for a mass shooting last year in which the gunman used one of its rooms.

Faced with potential lawsuits from hundreds of victims of last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International is trying an untested strategy: suing the victims first.

The company’s aggressive legal approach, which stirred outrage on social media Tuesday, turns on an interpretation of federal law that one of MGM’s own lawyers admits he discovered only a few weeks ago, and which has apparently never before been used to try to shield a company from liability.

MGM is not suing for money, but the company wants a federal court to rule that it cannot be held liable for the shooting by more than 1,000 victims and others it named in the suits. The company said it named only people that have already sued or given notice that they intend to do so.

MGM owns the Mandalay Bay hotel, where, on Oct. 1, from a room on the 32nd floor, Stephen Paddock shot and killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 others attending a country music concert below. It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Some victims have already sought damages from MGM for what they call a failure to provide adequate security and for allowing Mr. Paddock to bring high-powered rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition into his hotel room. Many more victims are expected to do the same.

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How the Las Vegas Gunman Planned a Massacre, in 7 Days of Video

Using exclusive surveillance footage obtained from MGM Resorts, we pieced together the last days of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman. He plays video poker, laughs with hotel staff and hauls bag after bag of weapons into his suite.

The surveillance footage is remarkable in its banality. It shows Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman, in the days before his mass shooting. He cuts a lonesome figure as he moves through the Mandalay Bay hotel — playing video poker for hours in the casino; buying snacks at a newsstand; watching a LeBron James interview in a restaurant; and at times, chatting with hotel staff. But this picture of an ordinary gambler disguises a far more sinister intent. Through this previously unseen footage, we’ll show how Paddock methodically planned his attack, and how, over seven days, hotel staff unwittingly helped him to move bag after bag of weapons to his room. The videos, obtained exclusively by The New York Times from MGM Resorts, begin on Monday, Sept. 25. At the V.I.P. counter, he checks into a suite on the 32nd floor, and books an adjoining room, which he will check into four days later. He doesn’t immediately bring in suitcases. Instead, he spends two hours in the hotel, going to his room and eating at a sushi restaurant downstairs. Just before 5 p.m., he drives his Chrysler Pacifica minivan to the valet area, where a bellman loads the luggage cart with five suitcases. Paddock asks to stay with his luggage, so the bellman brings him through the service elevators to his room — something hotel management says is not unusual. Paddock spends the next four hours in his room, and at 9:40 that night, he leaves the hotel, bringing two suitcases with him. He drives one hour to Mesquite, where he lived. Cellphone records show that he stays the night and spends most of Tuesday here. Around 8 p.m., Paddock returns to Las Vegas, but he stops at the Ogden, a downtown condominium complex. This is interesting for a few reasons. Paddock was also renting rooms here for the entire week. He checked in the previous Friday, when a music event called the Life Is Beautiful festival was being held in the surrounding streets. Internet records recovered by the police show that he searched for that festival’s lineup and its expected attendance. This was similar to his research of the Mandalay and the Route 91 Harvest Festival, which he would later attack. So, the Ogden and the Life is Beautiful festival could have been used for planning, or may even have been a target. Later Tuesday night, Paddock returns to the Mandalay and a different bellman helps him to move seven more suitcases to his suite. Again, he uses the service elevator. He tips the bellman, who had no way of knowing these cases were packed with guns and ammunition. He gambles for eight hours until morning. Paddock was a regular at the Mandalay, and several casino hosts knew him. The videos show their interactions as being completely normal and in no way alarming. Remember, in two days, Paddock has brought 12 cases upstairs. He spends most of Wednesday in his room, and that evening repeats a similar pattern. He leaves the Mandalay, again carrying two suitcases. He stops at the Ogden and drives home to Mesquite. On Thursday, he buys a .308 bolt-action rifle from a gun store and visits a nearby gun range before driving back to the Mandalay. That night, he again uses the valet service and a bellman to carry a white container and three suitcases to his room. His arsenal of weapons is growing. Again, he gambles through the night. It’s now Friday, and at 8 p.m., the Route 91 Harvest Festival will open in the fairgrounds across from the Mandalay. Paddock stays in his room until around 3 p.m. and uses his laptop while the suite is cleaned. He checks into the adjoining room, 134, using the name of his girlfriend, Marilou Danley. He also tells cleaning staff to leave behind the food-service cart. Two days later, Paddock would use this, and one other service cart, to create a surveillance ring during his attack. Overnight, he makes a brief trip to Mesquite. Arriving back at the Mandalay at 6 a.m. with two more suitcases. Soon after noon on Saturday, he places do not disturb signs on both room doors. He declines housekeeping. He takes an elevator to the valet area and sits, waiting for his car. He carries two more bags to his room. He gambles some more, and that night he makes a final trip to Mesquite, returning to the Mandalay at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning. He gambles through the night in the high-limits slots area, and returns to his room at 7:37 a.m. It’s 12:16 p.m. when we see Paddock going back to the parking garage. The guests exiting the elevator have no idea that in 10 hours, this unremarkable figure would commit the worst mass shooting in modern American history. He returns from his car, bringing two suitcases and a smaller bag inside. Since Monday, he has brought at least 21 cases, two smaller bags, a laptop bag and a container to his room. This is the last time we see Paddock, arriving at the 32nd floor. Through the day, he opens, closes and locks both rooms repeatedly. At thirty-six minutes after 9, he locks the deadbolt to room 135 for the last time. Four minutes later, Jason Aldean, who’s headlining the Route 91 festival, begins his act. Paddock then turns the deadbolt to room 134. At 10:05, his shooting rampage begins. In under 10 minutes, he would kill 58 people and injure over 700, before taking his own life. He had amassed 23 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Almost six months since the attack, Paddock’s motive remains unknown.

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Using exclusive surveillance footage obtained from MGM Resorts, we pieced together the last days of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas gunman. He plays video poker, laughs with hotel staff and hauls bag after bag of weapons into his suite.

MGM’s legal maneuver is likely to have consequences for other lawsuits over mass-casualty attacks. It is based on a federal law passed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which is known as the Support Antiterrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies, or Safety, Act.

The law is intended to shield federally certified manufacturers of security equipment and providers of security services from liability should they fail to prevent a terrorist attack, which the law defines as an unlawful act that causes mass destruction to citizens or institutions of the United States. The Department of Homeland Security said in a publication that it has approved hundreds of applications for Safety Act protection for products and services including software, sensors and security planning.

MGM contends that under the law, which Congress passed in 2002, it is immunized from liability because it met two conditions: A security company that was hired for the concert had a certification from the Department of Homeland Security, and the shooting qualified, in the company’s view, as an “act of terrorism.”

However, it is far from clear how successful the company might be in using this law to its advantage. MGM’s own lawyer, Michael Doyen of the firm Munger, Tolles and Olson, says in court filings that “there has apparently never been any litigation” invoking this federal law.

Mr. Doyen wrote that the shooting “appears to have been the first act of mass violence at an event at which a D.H.S.-certified service or technology was employed” — one of the conditions for triggering the liability shield. “No court opinions apply or interpret the statute,” he added.

The federally certified security company at the concert, Contemporary Services Corporation, has been seeking “a public statement by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the mass shooting was an ‘act of terrorism,’” Mr. Doyen wrote. MGM declined to comment on whether it, too, has been lobbying the department to declare the shooting an act of terror, which could help its case.

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The shots began at 10:05. Twelve bursts of gunfire later, the police broke down Stephen Paddock’s door at the Mandalay Bay. The Times mapped 30 videos to draw perhaps the most complete picture to date of what happened.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman declined to comment on whether any review is underway of how to characterize the shooting.

Lawyers for Mr. Paddock’s victims reacted with outrage to the MGM lawsuits, which were filed in Nevada and California last Friday, calling the move an unprecedented and specious attempt to protect the company no matter what the facts eventually show.

“It’s all about immunizing themselves from liability and staying out of state courts,” said Craig Eiland, a lawyer in Austin, Tex., who represents hundreds of shooting victims. “They want to say that it does not matter how negligent MGM was” in allowing Mr. Paddock to stockpile an arsenal in his Mandalay Bay hotel room.

Mr. Eiland said MGM’s effort to use the law this way, if successful, could provide a road map for other companies to escape responsibility for future mass-casualty attacks.

“Their theory is that this security company goes to D.H.S. and gets some type of certificate, and so now MGM is immune, and everybody in the future who hires the company is immune,” he said. “It’s outrageous, and that’s not what the law is, and we would all be less safe.”

In a statement, an MGM spokeswoman, Debra DeShong, said that the company filed the lawsuits and sought to move litigation over the shooting from state to federal court because doing so “provides those affected with the opportunity for a timely resolution. Years of drawn-out litigation and hearings are not in the best interest of victims, the community and those still healing.”

“Congress provided that the federal courts were the correct place for such litigation relating to incidents of mass violence like this one, where security services approved by the Department of Homeland Security were provided,” she added.

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