Cinema Chain Fined $1M After Moviegoer Killed By Motorized Chair

A European cinema chain has been leveled a £750,000 fine, or roughly $1,000,000, for safety breaches after a moviegoer was killed by one of its chairs, Deadline reports.

The incident in question occurred in March 2018 at a Vue Cinemas location in Birmingham, England. The customer, Ateeq Rafiq, 24, had dropped his phone between two of the theater's motorized recliner seats and was attempting to retrieve it. Rafiq's head was beneath the footrest as he made his attempt.

While his head was there, the footrest clamped down, trapping Rafiq and applying pressure to his neck. The customer was trapped for 15 minutes before he could be freed and later died from his injuries at the hospital. An investigation later revealed the malfunctioning seat had a faulty fuse.

"He was stuck," a witness to the incident said at the time. "His partner and staff tried to free him but couldn't. The chair leg-rest was eventually broken free and he managed to get out."

Vue Cinema death fine
Vue Cinemas was fined $1,000,000 after Ateeq Rafiq, 24, died after being trapped in a motorized reclining chair in 2018. A man walks past a Vue Cinema. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

The Birmingham Crown Court leveled the fine against Vue Cinemas on Tuesday. Judge Heidi Kubik, in her sentencing, called Rafiq's death "an accident that never should have happened" and said the chain had "exposed [the public] to the serious risk of harm." The ruling also called for the company to pay £130,000 in other costs, or roughly $178,000, on top of the safety breach fine.

"Nothing I can say can ameliorate the loss suffered by his wife and family," Kubik said during the sentencing.

"The death of Mr. Rafiq saddened everybody at Vue and we remain deeply sorry for the loss suffered by his family and friends," the chain said in a statement sent to Newsweek and other press outlets. "We hope 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."

Vue Cinemas is a multinational cinema chain based in London. It was founded in 1999 as Spean Bridge Cinemas but rebranded to Vue in 2003. While based in the United Kingdom, it operates locations all across Europe and beyond, including Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Taiwan.