Unhappy Hour: Pursuing Damages Resulting From A Bar Fight

Bars and nightclubs can be great places to relax and socialize with other people. At the same time, because of the alcohol factor, there's a higher risk of violence breaking out at these types of establishments. If you're injured in a bar fight that you didn't instigate, you may have cause of action against the aggressor and the facility where the incident took place. Here is what you need to know about securing compensation for damages resulting from a brawl that occurs in a bar or club.

Suing the Aggressor

If you did not provoke the attack, you can definitely go after the person who caused your injuries by filing a personal injury lawsuit directly against the individual (or individuals) involved. Depending on the circumstances and your injuries, you can be compensated for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.

In almost all cases, intoxication is not an adequate defense against a civil lawsuit or criminal case. As long as you can prove the person's actions or negligence resulted in your injuries, you should prevail in court.

The only exception to this rule is if the person became intoxicated involuntarily (e.g. someone slipped drugs in a non-alcoholic drink). In that circumstance, the court may find in the defendant's favor and you may need to sue the individual who caused the perpetrator to become intoxicated for damages.

Suing the Business

In lieu of or in addition to suing the perpetrator, you may also have cause to hold the establishment liable for your injuries based on a couple of legal doctrines. The first is premise liability, which holds owners responsible for keeping patrons of their businesses safe from undue harm or injury. For instance, a nightclub needs to ensure messes from spilled drinks are cleaned up quickly to prevent people from slipping and falling.

In the case of bar fights, the law requires establishment to have a reasonable amount of security on hand to help deter or quickly deescalate outbreaks of violence. The amount needed varies depending on the venue and circumstances. A club full of senior citizens generally won't need as much security on hand as a lounge full of college students.

The premise liability covers incidents that occur anywhere on property owned or managed by the owner of the establishment. This includes exterior areas such as parking lots and alleyways, so you can still bring a suit against the business even if you are attacked or injured while outside the club (e.g. standing in line waiting to enter).

The business may also be liable if it doesn't take steps to minimize the amount of damage that could be done if a fight did break out. This is mostly relevant in places where violence occurs often or the owner had reason to believe fighting would occur. For example, a bar that caters to a demographic known for being disorderly may choose to only serve alcohol in paper or plastic cups to prevent people from hitting each other with glass bottles. If you can show that the facility's business practices contributed to or increased the amount of injuries you sustained, you may be awarded compensation for them.

Another way you could hold the bar or nightclub responsible is if the facility's security staff injured you while stopping the altercation. It's reasonable to expect a bouncer to use a certain amount of force to break up a fight. Oftentimes, though, the amount of force used is disproportionate to the circumstances.

For instance, the bouncer may twist an aggressor's arm behind his back to force him out of the facility, which the courts may find reasonable if the person was resisting or attempting to harm the security person. However, the bouncer may use the same maneuver on the person's friend who wasn't fighting but was egging the perpetrator on.

In this second case, the affected bystander could make a claim that the bouncer used excessive force when escorting him out of the building and hold the club owner responsible for injuries based on respondeat superior. This is a legal doctrine that holds employers responsible for the bad acts of employees and other hired agents.

Proving Your Case

To prevail in court, you must prove that:

  • There was a legal duty to protect patrons from injury
  • The owner knew or should have known there would be a problem
  • The legal duty was not fulfilled or breached in some way
  • You sustained injuries or losses because of this failure

It's best to go to sites and work with a personal injury attorney if you plan on filing a lawsuit against a bar or nightclub. The lawyer can help you gather the necessary evidence and develop a court strategy that can increase your chances of winning your lawsuit.