Bar, restaurant, nightclub, and liquor liability (negligence) for personal injury

On Sunday, March 24, 2013, a bouncer employed at The Grand Canal in Boston was arrested for viciously attacking patrons who had been ejected from the bar. The beating occurred on the sidewalk outside the establishment, and was caught on video. News reports suggest that upon being forcibly removed, the patrons were attacked by the bouncer (possibly up to two more), who followed them out. Three victims went to the hospital, and the bouncer was arrested and arraigned the following morning. He was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

The bouncer faces criminal charges. But does it end there? In a word, no. This incident resonates beyond the criminal aspects and triggers a number of civil issues, namely in the realm of negligence and Liquor Liability Law (Dramshop laws).

There is a potential civil claim by those attacked in the melee, for their injuries. But whether that claim is successful, depends on many factors. In evaluating a case like this, an attorney must consider the level of intoxication of the victim/patrons; whether they were over served, while intoxicated; whether the actions of the bouncer were within the scope of his employment; and if there was negligent hiring, supervision or retention of the bouncer; among other issues.

The fight stemmed from a group of customers bumping into a woman, who began to shout at the group. In response, the bouncer is alleged to have aggressively herded the group out the door, where the pummeling commenced. This begs the question: were members of that group over served (meaning, did the bartender continue to serve alcohol to patrons they knew or should have known were intoxicated)?

If so, those patrons already were presenting a danger to the other patrons (and even employees) of the bar. This puts the responsibility on the bar for creating a dangerous situation.

If they were not over served, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the offending bouncer. The next question is whether his actions were in line with the policies and procedures of the bar. Although we may agree that the bouncer responded with excessive force, we have to further ask: is that how he was trained to respond in such a situation?

As an employee of the bar, the bouncer’s actions, while acting with in the course of his employment, are legally attributable to the bar. The next question might be whether the bar was negligent in the hiring of the bouncer. Did he have a criminal history? A violent background? All of these must be investigated.

Another incident in recent news that illustrates this area of law occurred in March in Weymouth.  At Buck’s Bar and Grill, a patron left the establishment without paying his tab. Another patron, a regular, followed the man out and ordered him to return and pay the bill. The man got into his vehicle, put it in reverse, and pinned the concerned customer to a parked car, causing severe trauma.

The driver was charged with a second offense OUI, leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, operating under the influence causing serious bodily injury, operating to endanger, and leaving the scene of an accident with property damage. As in the situation with the bouncer, the criminal implications are obvious. But what of the civil liability of the bar, and recourse for the injured patron?

Just like in the case above, in order to establish whether civil liability lies with the bar, the first question is whether the man who caused the injuries was served alcohol when he was already intoxicated. All bars must comply with M.G.L.c. 138 § 69, which prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated person.

The law is clear on this point: the onus is on the bar and its employees to recognize the signs of intoxication, and respond accordingly (that is: end alcohol service; ask the patron to leave; call a cab for the patron; or call the police, among some options). In any event, a tavern must not serve alcohol to a person it knew or should have known was intoxicated.

The facts of this situation suggest that being over served may be the case. The man left the bar without paying his tab, and was allegedly intoxicated when he engaged his vehicle. Discerning what happened inside the bar is the crucial.

Maybe the man was boisterous, or loud and unruly. Or perhaps he simply ordered and was served an amount of alcohol that can only result in intoxication, given the time frame. These all are considerations that have to be taken into account.

As you can see, the law is very complex when handling these types of cases. If you, a family member, or a friend, is injured in such a situation, you should contact an experienced attorney to learn whether you have a case or not. The Law Office of Frank J. Riccio has extensive experience (25 years) in the area of liquor liability law. We would be happy to help.