Brazil: Managing Crowds In Brazil – Recent Cases And The Need Of An Insurance Culture

Last Updated: 12 March 2001
Article by Deborah Sztajnberg


Brazil is famous for its many celebrations: parties, soccer games, carnival and music concerts. Nevertheless an unfortunate number of accidents that took place from late 2000 through early 2001, has brought the danger of mass events into our attention.

Unlike other venues where pure violence seems to take over, Brazilians, generally known to be peaceful, have other issues to deal with. When promoting public or free-access events, authorities and producers have to take the very likely chance of overwhelming attendance into consideration. To explain why events like Carnival or Rock in Rio are a huge crowd management success in comparison to a soccer game, attended by far less people but much more likely to turn into disaster, is a difficult job but worth the try, if only to provide insight into all the factors at stake.

I - The Law And The Philosophy Behind It

The Brazilian Constitution determines that public security is the "obligation of the State as well as a right and responsibility of everyone". Therefore all kinds of entertainment, performances and games need to be controlled in order to avoid major accidents. The sequels of the last events are an example of how imminent this issue is. It is all the more important to foresee and prevent such events given the inevitable tendency toward overcrowding of present times.

Unlike common law, the Brazilian system is based on the civil law. Consequently, a decision on a case is barely enough to ground lawsuits and actions. Usually, as it is common, after certain events affecting public opinion an act follows. It is the natural course of the law, to be always behind the facts of life.

The theory of tort and liability in Brazil follows the international tendency of diluted rights amongst the community. Living in a "mass society", preventive measures are preferable to reparative ones. Therefore, tort and liability cases do have an aspect of prevention, in an attempt to avoid similar actions. Law philosophers have even considered such theories and the jurisprudence over these matters as the true basis of ethical behavior. The concern with public order as well as the integrity of people and their patrimony goes back to ancient times, although approaches to this issue vary immensely.

In the entertainment industry cases of tort and liability are just as frequent as in any other country. In Brazil, however, insurance coverage is not a common practice outside the legally binding hypothesis, where the law determines the existence of insurance. Mass management, overcrowding, security and emergency plans are concepts arising with these past series of events, and as lawsuits follow, we will probably see a growing demand of insurance companies dealing with all sorts of private and public coverage. The appearance of newly defined semi-publics spaces, such as transportation, shopping centers, multiplexes, amusement parks and stadiums has brought the process of democratization of access to culture, leisure and entertainment to the attention of the law and justices.

According to Brazilian law, whenever one can prove that an accident was predictable by a number of circumstances, success on an eventual court action is likely for the plaintiff. In a mass attended event, chances of an accident-taking place are high. In order to avoid such situations all measures should be taken, specifically, a contract of insurance should be drafted in case all else fails and an accident become unavoidable.

II - The Cases

On most of the cases provided for this paper we could clearly identify a trend in the fact that all of them make comparisons with transport contracts. That means, when someone attends an event, the situation is not too different from taking a bus or a train, where the company/people responsible for the event have the obligation to guarantee the integrity of the people and the patrimony until such an event comes to an end.

  1. New Year's Eve At Copacabana Beach – A Crowded Celebration Of Peace

The famous New Year's Eve party on the Copacabana beach (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) caught everyone's attention as a celebration of peace when welcoming the year to come. That was until 1989 when the "Bateau Mouche" boat was wrecked killing fifty-five people. After that, companies managing boats at Copacabana beach paid double the attention and concern to the number of people boarding each boat. Considering the fact that nowadays this celebration is attended by approximately one million people, this case was classified among the percentage of accidents that could be avoided since there seemed to be more people on the boat than the permitted limit. Over the years this annual celebration seems to be a good example of peaceful events despite the large amount of people involved.

After last year's celebration however, December 2000, somehow the same tragic spell of the shipwreck of 1989 repeated itself. Copacabana's famous New Year's Eve fireworks, which have enjoyed national and international attraction, this time exploded in the near distance unlike what had been planned and its pieces caused the death of one person and injuries on several others. Technical problems regarded not only the fireworks themselves but also the emergency medical care of the victims was questioned. All the authorities, companies and people involved should prepare to have about one million people at the same time in the same place. Otherwise they should have at least a generous insurance coverage. Couldn't this be because Brazil does not yet have the "insurance culture" whereas in other countries almost everything is insured? That is a possibility, but after the series of public accidents a new field for insurance companies should be developed by exchanging information with one another about how they proceed in other parts of the world.

  1. Soccer Games – A National Passion

Soccer has made Brazil worldwide famous be it because of the passion Brazil fosters for such sport or because of the exceptional ability of the players. As it would be expected, the soccer industry developed heartily, but still there are some issues yet to be taken into consideration.

On December 30th of the year 2000, on a final competitive game, in the same stadium where ironically years ago some accidents occurred, the fence broke down and approximately one hundred and sixty people were injured. The repressible conduct of the stadium administration caused the governor's personnel to urge the game to be stopped so that the victims could be duly helped. Most of the victims are preparing lawsuits and until this time there is no record of an insurance coverage.

In 1997 another case during a soccer game became notorious.

A bomb was thrown from rival supporters resulting in one fatal victim, a young boy. His mother filed a court action that caused the supporters association and the administration of the stadium to pay damages. The records do not indicate whether any of the parties had insurance coverage.

The Ministry of Justice urged permanent and constant checking of security conditions in stadiums or anywhere else where crowds are to be present. In Argentina for instance insurance is mandatory for all soccer games. In England, episodes with hooligans have also disrupted soccer games and championships, confirming an international tendency in countries nurturing a passion for soccer and indicating the need for insurance coverage.

  1. Music Concerts – The Same Song Everywhere

On the year of 1985, on the same stadium where the fence broke down on December 2000 (Estadio do Vasco da Gama – Rio de Janeiro - Brazil), the musical group "Menudos", a top-charted band at the time, performed their act and in the end officials counted two people dead and 274 (two hundred and seventy-four) injured due to riots. Victims sued the promoters as well as the soccer club (owner of the stadium) claiming that there were approximately twenty thousand people above the stadium's capacity. Allegedly there were false tickets being accepted at the entrance, as well as a lack of lines and crowd management, which resulted on the conviction of the promoters but not of the soccer club.

Maracanazinho, one of the biggest soccer stadiums of Latin America, also located in Rio de Janeiro, held, in 1993, a concert by the Australian music group "Midnight Oil". This time the accident took place inside the stadium, where few days before heavy summer rains filled the entrance to the underground section of the Stadium, leaving it soaked up to the top of the lower bleachers. Later, on his way out of the venue, a young man fell down the bleachers steps and started to drown. When his friend tried to save him they both died electrified by a hydro-bomb, which was mistakenly left running. During the course of the lawsuit, there was evidence that the administrators of the stadium placed a fragile cardboard on top of the stairs, which was hardly capable of resisting the trampling of the crowds. In this case promoters were not liable for the event by the administrators were.

As mentioned earlier Brazilian public is quite peaceful, especially if compared to public elsewhere. Most accidents have to do with the production aspects more than to the "mass psychology" as it is defined by Dr. Sigmund Freud: where an individual can lead others depending on charisma and a number of other circumstances. When comparing the cases of audiences in Europe and North America we can observe the opposite, the productions are extremely careful but the nature of the audiences tends to result in riots, confirmed by the following examples:

  • June 2000 – Roskilde Festival – Denmark: During "Pearl Jam's performance 9 (nine) people died and 26 (twenty six) were injured allegedly due to the crowd's pressure below the stage to watch the band closer.
  • July 2000 – Baltimore, USA: Martin Muscheer fell down from a structure and died during a Metallica's performance.
  • July 2000 – Ghent, Belgium: An AC/DC's fan died after escalating a high tower.

III – Conclusion

As one can see, accidents do happen everywhere, but losses can definitely be lowered where an insurance culture is present. We started observing some changes after the Brazilian national insurance league launched a class of insurance for accidents in theme parks, probably due to some events that took place in the past. Therefore a new horizon presents itself for insurance companies to explore in this moment when a host of issues has come to light.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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