The City of Gilroy is bracing itself for potential litigation over the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting July 28 that bloodied the last day of the festival.
Three young people were killed and 13 others were injured when a lone gunman fired with a semi-automatic weapon on the crowd. The killer took his own life in a gun battle with police.
A special meeting of the City Council on a Saturday morning, Aug. 3, was convened a few days after the shooting so council members could discuss in closed session if the city had been named in any claims by festival attendees or if the city were vulnerable to legal claims it might bear some responsibility for the calamity.
Following shootings in other cities, legal action has been taken against the municipalities, event companies and businesses. According to a New York Times report, in Parkland, Fla. in a lawsuit brought by the families of victims killed in the shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, parents are suing the school district and sheriff’s office for negligence.
City Attorney, Andy Faber, told the Dispatch that as of Aug.12 that there were no legal claims the city was aware of at this time. “However, there is a very real possibility in events like this,” said Faber.
He believed the Garlic Festival Association would have to defend the city against any claims.
The Garlic Festival staff and its public relations/marketing firm, Articulate Solutions, of Gilroy, has declined to answer repeated telephone and email inquiries from the Gilroy Dispatch about the festival carnage. All content, except a single home page statement, on the festival’s website has been disabled since the day after the mass shooting, and its telephone number rings as a busy circuit.
The city entered into its existing contract with the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 1985. The contract has not been revised or updated since then. Each year the city issues a new permit for the festival.
The agreement between the Garlic Festival and the city allows the festival to be held on city property and has maintained a 34-year-old rental fee of $1,500 for use of the site at Christmas Hill Park each August.
According to the agreement, the festival must “provide insurance in the amount of not less than $1 million for damage to City facilities, injuries to volunteers, City employees and/ or visitors, and to cover litigation arising from legal duties undertaken associated with the Festival.”
In documents filed with the city, the festival has a current general liability insurance policy with CHUBB, the largest commercial insurance firm in the U.S., through a broker in Fairway, Kan.
The policy provides $1 million of general liability and personal injury coverage, plus $500,000 of damage to any rented premises, and added $5 million in “general aggregate” coverage and $5 million in product liability. The festival also has $6 million in liability coverage for festival rented or owned vehicles.
The City of Gilroy, “its officers, representatives, agents and employees” are named as additional insured on the general liability policy, but only with respect to liability arising out of festival operations or premises owned by or rented for the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
The city’s 34-year-old contract with the festival said that it is up to the city to provide “logistical support” to the festival. Under the contract, the festival reimburses the city for all documented costs associated with festival preparation, police services, fire department services, parks and recreation department services, and other associated city services.
Insurance professionals note that any liability claim against the festival’s insurance would also have to claim negligence on the part of the festival. Given that, insurance experts said the festival had minimum coverage given the scope of the festival. The nearby Watsonville Air Show, for example, has a $15 million general liability policy.
The Garlic Festival is required to pay the city a $ 1,500 rental fee, with any deposit and damage fees waived by the city.
Faber said the city sees no need to create an updated agreement, because of the longstanding relationship the city has had with the festival.
The Gilroy Garlic Festival is an independent 501c.3 non-profit organization.
Barry Holtzclaw contributed to this report.