London-based movie theater chain Vue Cinemas must pay $1M (£750,000) in fines after a patron was killed by a motorized reclining chair three years ago. What was initially thought of as a “freak accident,” turned out to be a result of the cinema chain’s negligence in safety protocol.
In 2018, 24-year-old Ateef Rafiq was attending a screening at the Star City venue in Birmingham when he dropped his phone under the seat. While he was trying to retrieve it, the motorized footrest began to lower onto Rafiq’s neck. His wife, other moviegoers, and employees struggled to free him for 15 minutes, and had to break the foot rest off in order to relieve Rafiq of the extensive pressure on his head and neck—which was equivalent to 3/4th of a ton. He went into cardiac arrest, and was rushed to the hospital where he died one week later from his injuries.
It turns out the motor in the seat had blown a fuse, in a bizarre sequence of events that lead up to what Judge Heidi Kubik described as “an accident that never should have happened.” Additionally, the automized chair was missing the bar which would have allowed Rafiq to be released manually.
“It is conceded that clearly a number of members of the public were exposed to the same risk of harm,” Judge Kubik added. “The complete lack of a risk assessment was a significant cause of the actual harm that resulted.”
In April, Vue Cinemas admitted to “failing to ensure that persons not in their employment are not exposed to risk to their health or safety” and for “failing to make a suitable and sufficient risk assessment,” racking up two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Vue has since removed all of those recliners from its theaters, and following the verdict, a spokesperson told Variety, “The death of Mr. Rafiq saddened everybody at Vue and we remain deeply sorry for the loss suffered by his family and friends.”
“We hope that that the end of these proceedings brings some closure to them following this tragic accident. All recliners of the type involved in the incident have been removed from our cinemas and we have taken all possible steps to learn from this and ensure it could not happen again,” the company added.