Every year thousands of people flock to the desert of Nevada to experience the eccentric community and culture that is the Burning Man festival. However, the festivities were interrupted this year when Aaron Joel Mitchell ran into a blaze of fire and was tragically killed.
On this week’s episode of All Things Legal, personal injury attorney Craig Ashton discussed the incident and the possible negligence of the festival organizers.
Burning Man encourages radical self-expression and plans numerous ritual burning ceremonies throughout the week. Mitchell, 41, broke through two levels of security to reach the flames during one of these ceremonies. Fire personal were on the scene and assisted rescuers as they extracted Mitchell from the debris. Soon-after, he was airlifted to UC Davis hospital and died hours later.
This is not the first time festival-goers have attempted to throw themselves into the flames of a ritual fire at Burning Man. Numerous people have suffered burns to their hands, feet, and legs, but no one has ever died until this year.
Is the Burning Man festival at fault?
Following the incident, resources were made available for those affected, but the festival continued on as planned. As we await the results of the toxicology report, it was concluded that Mitchell was not under the influence of alcohol.
It is unknown if Burning Man will be brought to a civil suit by Mitchell’s family, but there are many questions that remain. Was the festival negligent in not measuring the amount of danger and keeping people away? Did they provide enough security to withhold the number of guests attending the festival? Did the festival organizers acknowledge the opportunity for substance use and turn a blind eye? Or was this an intentional act of a third party that was out of the festival’s control?
It is likely that if the family decided to pursue civil charges against the festival they would lose. An assumption of risk states that an individual understood the risk of injury involved in the action they participated in and agreed to take that risk. It could be strongly argued that Mitchell knew there was a risk of injury associated with running into the flames. In the case that Mitchell was under the influence of mind altering drugs, that is not the fault of the festival, as they did not provide the drugs to Mitchell or force him to take them.
While the festival is unlikely to be legally held accountable, the tragedy of Mitchell’s death will surely affect the actions of future Burning Man organizers to ensure the safety and well-being of their guests.
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