Pantera broke up in 2003 when singer Phil Anselmo had a falling out with Darrell and his brother, fellow band mate and drummer, Vinnie Paul Abbott. The split was filled with acrimony to say the least and both Anselmo and the Abbott brothers went their separate ways and formed their own respective bands.
Upon the death of Darrell Abbott, Phil Anselmo attempted to attend the funeral of his former band mate but Vinnie Paul and Darrell’s long time girlfriend Rita Haney prevented him from doing so. They harbored great resentment toward Anselmo, as they both felt it was he who was responsible for Pantera’s breakup. Vinnie Paul further held distain for Anselmo due to alleged negative comments he made toward Darrell in the press.
Rita Haney went on the record saying that Anselmo was essentially just as responsible for the murder of Abbott as the man who actually shot him on stage. She went on to claim that if Anselmo did not force the breakup of Pantera, Darrell would not have been playing the small, dismal venue on the night of his murder. At the height of Pantera’s fame, they were playing in much larger arenas with heightened security. Upon investigation of Abbott’s death, it was revealed that the gunman acted out because he was upset about Pantera’s demise and he held Darrell responsible. It was also later determined that the gunman had severe mental issues.
In response to Rita Haney’s claims, the legal issue boils down to reasonable forseeability; more specifically, was it foreseeable that Darrell Abbott would be murdered if Anselmo had not broken up the band.
While it may be factually true that had Anselmo not left Pantera, Abbott would not have formed a new band and would not have been playing in the smaller venue on the night of his murder. However, for anyone, including Rita Haney, to hold Anselmo responsible for the actions of a mentally ill murderer is not legally plausible to say the least.
To be deemed legally responsible for certain actions, whether they are criminal or tort, the issue of foreseability comes into play. If a party acts in a way where it is reasonably foreseeable that said actions would have a negative impact upon another, that party would be deemed legally culpable.
For example, if a person drinks an abundant amount of alcohol and then drives their car home, it is reasonably foreseeable that they may cause an accident and that other people may be injured or killed as a result. In this scenario, it would be justified to hold a drunk driver responsible for the harm they cause to people they hit with their car while under the influence of alcohol. The same cannot be said regarding the actions of Phil Anselmo as they pertain to his departure from the band Pantera.
While it may be true that had Anselmo not left Pantera, Abbott would not have been playing in the smaller venue on the night if his murder. It can also be assumed that the man who shot and killed him would not have done so had Pantera stayed together as a band. However, it was not reasonably foreseeable that Darrell Abbott would have been murdered by a mentally ill fan based on Anselmo’s decision to leave the band. The actions of the crazed gunman on the night of December 8, 2004 superceded anything that Phil Anselmo did with regard to his involvement in the demise of Pantera.
When it comes to legal culpability, reasonable foreseeability is the ultimate measuring stick. Often people want to point fingers and place blame where it doesn’t legally belong. Before they do, they should take a step back and ask themselves whether or not it is reasonable, under the circumstances, to hold said person responsible.
In the case of the Pantera tragedy, both Vinne Paul Abbott and Rita Haney were understandably emotional. In the heat of the moment, they immediately lashed out at Phil Anselmo. While it may be reasonable to be upset with him on a professional level, it is absolutely unreasonable and outright wrong to hold him legally responsible for the death of Darrell Abbott.
As a fan of Pantera, I hope Anselmo and Vinnie Paul make amends, but as of this writing, it doesn’t appear it is going to happen in the foreseeable future.
Marty Carbone, Carbone & Carbone LLP