Indiana Appeals Court: Bar Owed Brawl-Injured Patron Duty of Care

Indiana businesses may want to take note and review their customer safety and security policies and procedures given a recent appellate court ruling which affirmed a bar owner’s legal duty to be proactive in protecting patrons after a customer was seriously injured in a brawl.

Civil cases like this fall under the umbrella of premises liability. Assuming a person is not trespassing and has a right or invitation to be there (paying customers especially), those who own/control property generally have a duty to exercise reasonable care to shield against known or foreseeable hazards. Whether a property owner can be held liable in these situations varies greatly depending on a host of factors, chief among them whether there is a prior history of dangerous incidents that effectively places the business on notice that more stringent safety measures are needed. The big questions are usually: what constitutes “reasonable” and “foreseeable”, especially when an incident involves a criminal attack by a third-party.

In a recent decision, the main point of contention before the Indiana Court of Appeals was whether the bar owed any duty at all to a patron, given that the fight that resulted in serious injury occurred in the parking lot after closing.

Indiana Business Liability for Criminal Attacks on Property

Defense attorneys, appealing the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, argued the bar and its staff did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, who was seriously injured in a parking lot fistfight just after closing. But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the bar failed to prove it was free from that duty of care just because the business had technically closed and patrons were outside the establishment.

According to court records, plaintiff was seriously hurt in the fight, which arose from tensions after his intoxicated friend made a careless remark toward a woman as everyone was being ushered out of the venue at closing time. The woman, her boyfriend and his friends took offense and a fight broke out.

Plaintiff walked away with a serious eye injury and sued the bar for damages.

Court: Duty to Protect Patrons Doesn’t Necessarily End at Closing Time

In the business’s argument for judgment in its favor as a matter of law, defense lawyers cited a 2016 Indiana Supreme Court decision that also involved a fight in a bar parking lot, which escalated to a shooting. The state’s high court affirmed summary judgment in the bar’s favor in that case. The bar did not owe plaintiffs a duty of care because it could not have foreseen the severity of the injuries resulting from the situation that would have prompted a business to take preventive action.

Our personal injury lawyers in Gary note that in both cases no evidence showed bar staffers should have known tensions were escalating among these individuals. However, the court held this was the type of “rowdy” behavior any bar owner should consider when weighing security and the bar’s history of previous fights both in the bar and just outside.

The duty to protect a patron doesn’t extend simply to getting “them through the exits at closing time,” the court held, because to do so would in effect make the owner immune for any violent acts among customers after last call.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.