Fyre festival, vigorously promoted by “social media influencers” such as Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski as a “luxury” music festival with tickets ranging in price from $1,200 to over $100,000 per person, was scheduled to take place over two weekends in April and two weekends in May on the “private” Bahamian island of Great Exuma. Unfortunately, the festival was not nearly what its promoters were touting: it ended up being, what some described as, a “post-apocalyptic nightmare” resembling a chapter out of the “Lord of the Flies.” The story of Fyre Festival blew up in the press this spring, and is now lighting up the federal court system.
Daniel Jung, as an individual concert-goer and the representative of a putative class of concert-goers, filed a class action lawsuit on April 30, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Billy McFarland, Jeffrey Atkins (p/k/a Ja Rule), and Fyre Media, Inc. (“Defendants”), alleging fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and contractual claims stemming from the ill-fated festival. According to Jung, festival-goers found themselves stranded on a deserted foreign island eating “little more than bread and a slice of cheese” and seeking shelter in “FEMA tents” while waiting to be airlifted from the “mass chaos.” Jung alleges that the Defendants had been aware of the “dangerously under-equipped” festival for months but only “cancelled” the event on the morning of the first day, which left thousands of stranded attendees without food, water, medical care, or shelter. Jung further alleges that festival goers were “lured” into the “cultural experience of the decade” with promises of “first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere” featuring A-list entertainers such as Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and Major Lazer (who allegedly never showed up after being personally warned by the Defendants not to attend the festival due to its “dangerous conditions”). The Defendants not only failed to warn the festival-goers ahead of time of the sub-par conditions, but induced further panic when festival-goers attempted to unsuccessfully escape the island in masse because of their reliance upon Defendants for transportation in and out of the island.
While the facts sound like the setup for the newest survival-based reality competition show, the event appears to have had a significant impact on many people, both financially and emotionally. The lead plaintiff, Daniel Jung, lays out his version of the story in a complaint that can only be described as deeply troubling. He bases his fraud claim on intentional misrepresentation (e.g., through social media outlets) by the Defendants, who, among other things, promoted the festival as “luxurious”. As the organizers and sponsors of this festival, Jung claims that the Defendants knew that these representations were false and/or made with reckless disregard for the truth with intent to increase the number of festival-goers to the event. Jung claims he spent thousands of dollars to attend (and then, to escape) the festival, and that his reliance on the Defendants’ misrepresentations caused him not only monetary loss but emotional pain stemming from his experiences at the failed event. His claim for negligent misrepresentation is similar, in that Defendants misrepresented the festival as being “luxurious,” yet had no reasonable ground for believing their representations were true based on their obvious lack of preparation.
Jung also alleges that the Defendants breached a contract, in that Jung entered into an agreement whereby Defendants agreed to provide a luxurious festival in exchange for money, but instead Defendants delivered refugee camp-like accommodations and no festival at all. Similarly, Jung claims that the Defendants breached the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” implied in all contracts in that the Defendants engaged in disruptive behavior which interfered with Jung’s right to receive the benefits of the contract. Jung is seeking $100,000,000 in damages. Currently eight lawsuits have been filed against the Defendants in connection with this series of unfortunate events.
The Defendants likely face an uphill battle, especially in the face of such damaging facts, as there are probably more than enough witnesses to corroborate at least some of Jung’s claims. The Defendants have not responded to the complaint yet, so it is not clear what their strategic approach will be. Accordingly, it remains to be seen whether Ja Rule is right when he was quoted saying “The whole world knows Fyre’s name now. This will pass, guys.” Whether the storm passes or strikes full force, concert promoters and organizers can learn a few valuable basic steps for how not to get sued when planning a music festival. One, actually prepare for the event; two, don’t overpromise, whether in social media, contracts, or through “influencers,” especially before the event is full developed; three, get insurance; four, actually have the music festival, but if you have to cancel, do so sufficiently in advance of attendees traveling from all over the world, and offer refunds – in addition to an apology. Finally, it is always a good idea to retain experienced entertainment attorneys to assist in planning a festival to avoid the many possible legal pitfalls.