Lessons Learned: Michael Strickland

Pollstar continues its series of real life lessons in the concert business.

Several years back in Galveston, Texas, Bandit Lites was involved in an accident during a Garth Brooks television special when an employee of a local labor company climbed a scaffolding tower.

This gentleman had been out drinking until 7:30 a.m. and reported to work at 9. He somehow got into one of Bandit’s workboxes and took a Bandit Lite harness. He climbed about 40 feet without the proper safety gear and took a tumble. He had a number of serious injuries including a ruptured spleen and broken leg.

As is their nature, the lawyers sued everyone, from Garth Brooks to Bandit Lites to everyone in between. Many companies settled out of court, but we challenged it.

Unfortunately, one of the tenets of U.S. law is prior settlements cannot be mentioned in court. In other words, the gentleman had already received a substantial amount of settlement money and was made whole, but the jury never knew.

The lawyer pointed squarely at Bandit Lites, then squarely at his client, and said, "Somebody must pay."

That stuck in the mind of the jury and, basically, the only somebody who was sitting there that could pay was us. The jury said that, because this gentleman had on our harness, we had a duty to train him on using it. We had never met him prior to the accident. Still, he was awarded $1.3 million.

Our insurance company covered it but canceled our policy, which meant our rates went higher with the new insurance carrier.

The valuable lesson we learned was, you can and will be held responsible in situations where you’re very clearly not responsible.

Now we document everything. If anyone attaches anything to our equipment, they agree to hold us harmless and agree to defend us. Video companies need to provide their own motors and trussing. We have a specific set of guidelines on how to climb scaffolding as written by OSHA. Our people are not allowed to interact on site with scaffolding personnel, unless it is done in conjunction with OSHA.

We educate our clients that you can’t simply put scaffolding up and climb the end braces just because that’s the way it’s been done for years. The sad part is, they don’t want to hear that. Instead they’ll say, "Well, if you guys won’t do it, we’ll hire another company."

That’s a false security blanket because eventually somebody else will fall, and somebody’s going to get sued. We’ve expressed this concern to production companies and twice in the last year we’ve heard, "Well, that’s what insurance is for."

I don’t subscribe to that. We have a duty to save people’s lives. All we ask is that everyone complies with OSHA. I’m going to keep pushing the ball forward and educate others until I succeed.