What could possibly go wrong right?
Area 51 is an Air Force facility in Nevada which has been the subject of constant speculation from conspiracy theorists. The most common theory is that Area 51 contains evidence of aliens and UFOs. In the late 1990s, one poll found that 4 out of 5 Americans believed that proof of alien existence was hidden away at Area 51.
Of course, one reason that conspiracy theories have flourished is that the government has kept the identity of Area 51 under a cloak of secrecy, not even acknowledging its existence until 2013. According to the government, the area is a training ground for the development and testing of military aircraft.
With so much mystery surrounding Area 51, some people on Facebook decided to start a “Storm Area 51” group. As of July 2019, more than 2 million people have signed up to physically storm the area on September 20, 2019. Almost another 1.5 million people have claimed to be interested in participating.
We appreciate that this event is satirical and sincerely hope no one actually thinks they will storm a top-secret government facility. As experienced attorneys, we need to warn the public that any trespassing on government property will probably result in serious injuries. The resulting personal injury cases probably will not be resolved in a manner favorable to those crashing the gate at Area 51.
How Will the Government Respond?
How do you think the government will respond? Area 51 has been a top-secret location for several decades, and the CIA only acknowledged its existence in 2013 when responding to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The government obviously wants to keep people away from Area 51, whether that is because they really have proof of UFOs or because there is sensitive information about aircraft development held onsite. Regardless of the government’s motives, we anticipate that the government will use force, if necessary, to keep people from coming onto Area 51.
This means that you could be shot if you don’t obey commands to turn around and leave. The government might also use tear gas or other nonviolent methods to disperse a crowd. You should not expect to be handled gently if you are part of a mob descending onto Area 51.
We also expect a violent response because the government does not want to create an incentive for masses of people to storm other government property. What if 2 million people show up to jump the fence at the White House? To charge the Supreme Court building? Social media allows people to organize these kinds of mobs very easily, and we imagine the government wants to send a message that any kind of action like this will not be tolerated.
Can the Government Use Violence?
Yes. The government enjoys broad power to enforce public order. Since anyone storming Area 51 is trespassing, the government can clear you from the property.
The amount of force the government can legally use will depend on the circumstances. If only two or hippies showed up one day and tried to shoulder their way onto Area 51, then the government might not be able to use guns. Instead, they would need to confront the trespassers and get them to leave by using handcuffs or other methods.
However, if a gigantic crowd shows up at Area 51, then the government can probably use more violent methods of dispersing people. Either the state or federal government could declare a state of emergency, which will suspend many of your rights. Expect tear gas and pepper spray, as well as commands to leave over the loudspeaker. If the mob gets out of control, then the government can take additional action to keep you off the property.
And good luck bringing a lawsuit because you were injured! We don’t want to claim that you can never sue the government for how it handles a riot. But it is very difficult. If the guards fear for their safety, for example, they can shoot people trying to storm the facility.
What if I’m Injured in a Stampede?
This is also a possibility. Let’s say a few hundred thousand people show up and decide to push forward. You might lose your balance or trip, which means you’ll likely be trampled by other members of the mob. This often happens during Black Friday when people line up outside big box stores for early morning Christmas deals. Several people have either died or been badly injured when they have been trampled by a few dozen people.
If anything like 1 million people show up to storm Area 51, then you probably would be killed if you fell in the crowd. At a minimum, you could suffer life-changing injuries like paralysis.
Can you sue? It would be hard to sustain a lawsuit. For one thing, you are willingly joining a mob trying to trespass. Nevada recognizes something called ” “assumption of the risk.” This is a legal defense in a lawsuit that applies when an injured victim voluntarily undertook a dangerous activity. Here are the elements:
- You actually knew the risk involved in your conduct.
- You fully appreciated the danger.
- You voluntarily accepted the risk.
If you show up in Southwest Nevada to join a “Storm Area 51” group, that you know has over a million members, and you get injured in a stampede, then anyone who accidentally stomped you will undoubtedly raise an assumption of the risk defense. Chances are very slim that you would be able to succeed in your lawsuit, as you know and appreciate the risks of joining a trespassing mob.
How about if I Am Injured by a Hazardous Condition on the Property?
We can imagine situations where some people actually break through and get into Area 51 only to be injured on the property. After all, you have no idea what the layout is and could easily stumble onto some hazard that harms you.
Under Nevada law, people who are injured on government property can sometimes bring a lawsuit based on premises liability. A landowner, including the government, must keep its property in reasonably safe condition for visitors. If a dangerous condition injures a visitor, then he or she might be able to bring a premises liability lawsuit.
However, Nevada law draws a distinction between permissive users—those with permission to be on the property—and trespassers, who have no right to be on the property. A trespasser is owed a much lower duty of care. In particular, the landowner must refrain from deliberately harming trespassers. Only if the property owner knows that a trespasser is on the property must he provide any kind of warning about known hazards.
Since you are not on the property with permission, you are a trespasser. This means that you will not be able to sue because you were injured by a dangerous condition on the property. The government operates a secure site which it does not reasonably expect anyone to enter. If you bust through anyways, you probably will not succeed in a premises liability claim.
What if I’m Injured on My Trip to Area 51?
This is a different situation. Let’s say you are driving to rural Nevada to join the crowds and are injured along the way. You could bring a car accident lawsuit if some other driver struck you or forced you off the road. This is really no different than if you were injured driving around at home.
You could also have a premises liability claim if you were injured while staying in a hotel or an Airbnb. You might slip and fall or be injured because of the negligent security. A defective product in the hotel, like a blow dryer, could also end up harming you.
In these examples, you very well might have a valid legal claim for compensation. You should meet with a personal injury attorney here in Nevada to review your case. At Ladah Law Firm, many of our clients receive compensation for a variety of economic losses, such as medical care and lost wages. If your injuries are serious, you might also receive compensation for pain and suffering. For more information about whether you have a claim, reach out to us today.
Representing Las Vegas and the Surrounding Areas
We will have to wait until late September to find out whether people actually show up to storm Area 51. However, those who think they want to go should seriously consider the legal consequences. We haven’t even touched on the legal punishments you might face for trying to force your way onto secure government property.
At Ladah Law, we have made a name for ourselves representing the injured in Nevada. Our Las Vegas law blog gets countless hits every week, so there is a real need for legal knowledge in the public. We work to empower our clients to make the best decisions for themselves.
If you have a question, or if you think you have been injured, contact us today. You can call 702-252-0055 for more information. We offer a free consultation to those who get in touch.