Jury orders Sony Music to pay $160 million over 2017 shooting at Cousin Stizz concert

Credit: Sasun Bughdaryan

A jury in Georgia has ordered Sony Music to pay $160 million in punitive damages following the fatal shooting of two attendees during a Cousin Stizz concert in 2017.

The concert at the Masquerade nightclub in Atlanta’s Underground development on November 12, 2017, saw a gunman open fire, injuring four people.

Giovan Diaz and Ewell Ynoa, who were 22 and 21 at the time, died from “catastrophic injuries,” according to separate complaints filed by the victims’ estates in 2018.

The shooting took place before Stephen Goss, known professionally as Cousin Stizz, hit the stage.

Sony Music Holdings, the Masquerade night club and its CEO Brian McNamara, as well as other entities involved in the promotion, management and security of the concert “failed to ensure that the premises and concert were safe for guests at the venue,” the complaints read.

Despite the recent fatal mass shooting events in nightclubs, schools and other establishments, the defendants failed to implement critical measures and security safeguards needed to ensure the safety of Cousin Stizz concertgoers, Diaz and Ynoa’s legal teams argued.

Both victims suffered “fright, shock, mental distress, and catastrophic injuries,” resulting in their deaths, according to the complaints.

Sony Music Holdings, being the promoter, planner, supervisor and manager of the concert, failed to put security measures in place and carry out reasonable inspections of the concert venue, according to the court filings.

On December 15, 2022, a jury in Georgia’s Dekalb County ruled in favor of the victims’ families.

A Sony Music spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by MBW.

Atlanta lawyer Parker Miller of Beasley Allen, who served as lead trial counsel in the case, said: “Obviously, these types of cases do not come around often. This was a mass shooting in a crowded concert. There were multiple deaths, and [Diaz] and [Ynoa] 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,” added Miller.

Tiffany M. Simmons, managing partner of Simmons Law in Atlanta, Georgia, who also served on the clients’ team, said, “There is no excuse for how poorly secured this production was.”

“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,” Simmons added.

UPDATE: Sony Music Holdings Inc. filed a public motion to stay enforcement of the judgment on December 23.

Within the filing, obtained by MBW, and which you can read in full here, SMHI has asked the court to “exercise its discretion and enter an order granting SMHI supersedeas at least through and including January 17, 2022”.

SMHI writes in the filing that it “will show in its forthcoming motion to open default, plaintiffs mistakenly named SMHI as a defendant”.

According to SMHI, it: “(1) Did not have any contractual relationship with Cousin Stizz, the artist performing at the concert where the subject shooting occurred, (2) had no involvement with the concert, and (3) is not the Sony entity engaged in the prerecorded music business”.

The filing adds: “Even if plaintiffs had sued the potentially “right” Sony entity (the entity that had a contractual relationship with the artist for his recording services), that record company did not plan, book, manage, receive any revenue from ticket sales, or supervise the artist’s appearance or performance at that concert either.”

SMHI also claims in the filing that, “during the four-and-a-half year period that this case has been pending, SMHI was not provided notice of the motion for default judgment, the default judgment itself, the trial, the verdict, or the final judgment, even though service was effected on other parties”.

It adds: “As a result, SMHI did not become aware of the entry of the judgment until December 20, 2022, after it had been publicized by the plaintiffs and reported in the news media.”Music Business Worldwide