By Ken Ritter, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two years after a shooter rained gunfire on country music fans from a high-rise Las Vegas Strip hotel, MGM Resorts International has agreed to pay up to $800 million to families of the 58 people who died and hundreds of others who were injured, attorneys announced Thursday.
The out-of-court agreement will resolve lawsuits in at least 10 states seeking compensation from the hotel owner for physical and psychological injuries received in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Publicly traded MGM Resorts acknowledged no liability or guilt with the agreement that attorneys said was reached Monday and made public just two days after the second anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre at a country music concert.
No one wanted to upstage victim memorials with the settlement, said attorney Robert Eglet, who represents about 2,500 of the 4,400 people with claims against publicly traded MGM Resorts.
And no one wanted to go through protracted litigation, he said.
Victims accused the casino giant of failing to protect 22,000 people at the 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 company’s Mandalay Bay resort.
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.”
The settlement creates the third-largest victims compensation fund in U.S. history, said Kenneth 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.
The final amount of the Las Vegas settlement will depend on the number of claims and decisions by one or more independent administrators who will be appointed by a court to allocate money from the settlement fund, plaintiffs’ attorneys and MGM Resorts said.
“Our goal has always been to resolve these matters so our community and the victims and their families can move forward in the healing process,” said Jim Murren, company chairman and chief executive.
Company stock closed trading Thursday at $27.25, up 14 cents.
James Frantz, a San Diego attorney who represents 199 victims, said he expected a compensation formula to be worked out based on the severity of injuries.
Eglet said all sides expect to wrap up work by late next year, a timeline that Feinberg called realistic.
Attorneys will get some of the money, but Eglet said he couldn’t say how much because attorney-client agreements vary.
The settlement fund will disburse between $735 million and $800 million. MGM Resorts is insured for $751 million.
A court battle pitting more than 65 legal firms against MGM Resorts could have taken a decade or more, Eglet said, while the agreement will “provide the greatest good” for those still recovering from the massacre. The lawsuits were not declared a class action.
“While nothing will be able to bring back the lives lost or undo the horror so many suffered on that day, this settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” he said in Las Vegas.
Attorneys said there are at least three other lawsuits that are not affected by the settlement. Some name the gunman’s estate, gun manufacturers, event promoters and others.
In Nevada, a U.S. District Court judge last week refused to dismiss a negligence lawsuit by shooting victims against Slide Fire Solutions, maker of bump stock devices the shooter used to modify assault-style weapons to fire more rapidly.
The legal fights stem from a country music festival that became a killing ground when a 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes video poker player fired out the windows of his hotel room into the crowd.
Stephen Paddock killed himself as police closed in. Officers found 23 assault-style weapons in his room. Fourteen were equipped with bump stocks.
Police and the FBI found that Paddock meticulously planned the attack and authorities 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 the Sept. 11, 2001, attack that gave stadiums, corporate buildings and other facilities that draw crowds protection from lawsuits for strengthening security against terrorist attacks.
Chelsea Romo, a 30-year-old single mother of two from Temecula, California, lost her left eye in the shooting and still has shrapnel lodged in her brain. Of the settlement, she said, “I don’t think anything could ever be enough” because “you can’t bring people back.”
Romo said in San Diego that she is on “high alert” in public places and hopes the deal will lead to measures that make those places safer.
“The past can’t be changed,” she said. “I guess as far as going forward, if things can be safer and better, that’s all I really could ask for.”
Associated Press reporters Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Morgan Smith in Salt Lake City and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.