John Locher / AP
Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 | 2 a.m.
They may have been united by a love for country music, but the folks gunned down two years ago at a Las Vegas concert will not be seen as equals when up to $800 million is paid out from a legal settlement.
The administrator overseeing the process will have the icy task of calculating the value of a life based on how much victims earned or based on the gravity of survivors’ wounds and the hazy concepts of pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
“It is a cold mathematical calculation,” said attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who has administered payouts from the nation’s highest-profile tragedies. “Forget courage and integrity. Those are characteristics to ask a priest or rabbi, not the administrator of a fund.”
The settlement between MGM Resorts International and families of the 58 people who died and hundreds of others who were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history was announced Thursday.
The agreement will resolve lawsuits in at least 10 states seeking compensation from the hotel owner for physical and psychological injuries after a lone gunman rained fire down on a country music festival from his perch in a high-rise Las Vegas Strip hotel on Oct. 1, 2017.
Publicly traded MGM Resorts admitted no liability or guilt.
Victims accused the casino giant of failing to protect 22,000 people at a concert venue it owns or stop the shooter from amassing an arsenal of assault-style weapons and ammunition over several days before opening fire from a suite at the Mandalay Bay resort.
Attorneys representing family members of the dead and those wounded or haunted by the shooting applauded the settlement and said it would eliminate a protracted court battle.
"They really don't want money," Los Angeles attorney Kevin Boyle said. "They want their loved ones back."
But it is money that they will get, which will be divvied up based on formulas such as expected lifetime earnings or severity of injuries. Payouts will be calculated by reviewing such items as medical bills, hospital records and the prognosis for a lifetime of long-term health problems.
While some people recovered from gunshots, others were injured when they were trampled, and others have emotional scars.
"There are a lot of people who may not have been touched by bullets but still have to live their life with the trauma that comes from being a part of that event,” said Stephanie Wellek, who has post-traumatic stress disorder from the shooting. “That's the biggest group that really is going to be helped, I think, by this lawsuit settlement."
Attorney Robert Eglet, who represents about 2,500 of 4,400 people with claims, said a Nevada state court judge in Las Vegas will be asked in coming weeks to name one or more administrators to set up a program, assess settlement claims and disburse funds.
The settlement creates the third-largest victims compensation fund in U.S. history, said Feinberg, a claims administrator who distributed $7.1 billion in victim compensation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and $6.5 billion following the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Payments are based on statistical data, age and lifetime earnings that would have been expected if someone had survived. Families of younger victims and higher earners will typically get more, which is how tort lawsuits work, Feinberg said.
“In a case like 9/11, a stock broker, a banker, a lawyer, an accountant, they are going to get a lot more money than the waiter, the busboy, the cop, the fireman, the soldier,” he said.
James Frantz, a San Diego attorney who represents 199 victims including families of four people who were killed, said he expected the process to be completed by early next year. Attorneys will likely seek a percentage of the payout as settlement; he said he hasn’t decided how much to ask for.
“MGM has stepped up and done the right thing, so the victims can put this behind them once and for all,” Frantz said. “They didn’t always do the right thing. They didn’t secure their premises at all.”
Attorneys said there are at least three other lawsuits not affected by the settlement. Some name the gunman’s estate, gun manufacturers, event promoters and others.
The legal fights stem from a country music festival that became a killing ground when a retired accountant and high-stakes video poker player fired out the windows of his hotel room into the crowd.
Stephen Paddock, 64, killed himself as police closed in. Officers found 23 assault-style weapons in his room. Fourteen were equipped with bump stocks, which allow for rapid firing characteristic of an automatic firearm.
Police and the FBI found that Paddock meticulously planned the attack and theorized that he may have sought notoriety. But they said they never determined a clear motive.
As legal claims piled up, MGM Resorts drew outrage by filing lawsuits last year against more than 1,900 victims in a bid to avoid liability. The company argued it didn’t owe anything to survivors or families of slain victims under a federal law enacted after Sept. 11, 2001 that gave stadiums, corporate buildings and other facilities that draw crowds protection from lawsuits for strengthening security against terrorist attacks.
Dr. Heather Melton, an orthopedic surgeon in Big Sandy, Tennessee, whose husband, Sonny, died shielding her from gunfire, said she had mixed feelings about the agreement.
“There’s some good that comes from it: It will help give families closure and alleviates their ongoing medical costs,” she said. “But there’s no amount of money I would take to not get my husband back.”