Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino has been ordered to sit for a deposition as part of ongoing litigation resulting from the fatal 2021 Astroworld festival. He will have to answer questions under oath posed by lawyers working for the families of those who died at the 2021 edition of the Live Nation promoted event. 

Explaining her decision last week to force Rapino to undergo questioning, judge Kristen Hawkins wrote, “The court finds that Michael Rapino has personal and direct knowledge of relevant information. The court finds that Michael Rapino has superior knowledge of discoverable information and that he is the only individual with personal knowledge of the information. The court finds that the information is not available through other sources”. 

Lawyers representing the live giant had tried hard to persuade the judge not to oblige Rapino to take part in a deposition in relation to the hundreds of lawsuits that were filed following the crowd surge at Astroworld 2021, in which ten people died and hundreds more were injured. 

They cited the ‘Apex deposition doctrine’, which exists to stop plaintiffs in a lawsuit from immediately seeking a deposition with the bosses of any companies involved in a case. That mainly exists to stop depositions being requested which are less about gathering relevant information and more about inconveniencing and potentially embarrassing a senior executive, in the hope that might pressure the other side to settle. 

Under this doctrine, courts should only force senior executives to sit for a deposition if it can be shown that other less intrusive ways to gather information have been exhausted and that the executive has relevant first-hand knowledge of facts at issue. 

Lawyers representing those suing Live Nation have put forward a large file of correspondence between Rapino and other people involved in Astroworld, seeking to demonstrate that the CEO had important knowledge about the event. 

Live Nation’s attorney, Neal Manne, argued that only six of those messages were from before the festival took place. That included one message in which Rapino inquired whether or not Live Nation was the event’s promoter. 

This, Manne claimed, displayed that the Live Nation boss had no involvement in the planning of the festival, which is the key focus when seeking to identify whether the festival promoter should be held liable for the tragedy that unfolded. 

Countering that argument, the other side stressed that there were also conversations between Rapino and other executives - as well as Astroworld founder and headliner Travis Scott - in the immediate aftermath of the crowd surge. This included discussions about the cancellation of the second day of the event. Those conversations are relevant, they added, and only Rapino knows what was said in all of them. 

Lawyers working for the plaintiffs might also want to question Rapino about the corporate structure of Live Nation. In a Billboard report published shortly after the Astroworld tragedy, sources who were critical of the way the festival’s site had been set up by Live Nation subsidiary Scoremore noted that, because of the way the live giant is structured, newer divisions don’t necessarily tap the expertise and knowledge of more experienced divisions. 

Given the concerns raised after the event about the Astroworld site plan, the question being implied was: had another Live Nation festival division, such as C3 Presents, seen the plans before the event, would they have advised an alternative approach that could have stopped the crowd surge from happening? 

Some of the lawsuits filed over Astroworld originally named Rapino as a defendant in his own right. Those claims were dismissed at the start of 2023, something else noted by Live Nation’s lawyers. In a legal filing last month, they wrote, “Mr Rapino’s only connection to this litigation is in his role as President and CEO of Live Nation. That connection was insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction and is insufficient to compel [a] deposition”. 

But, of course, judge Hawkins did not concur.

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