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Are Bars Liable for the Violent & Negligent Acts of Its Patrons?

Dexter Evans

Bars

On January 23, 2016, a man was fatally shot and another stabbed outside the La Quinta De Los Reyes bar in downtown Aurora. Police arrived to a scene of approximately 100 people brawling in the street outside the bar. In situations like these, there is often a question of how much blame should be placed on the owner of the bar for the scenario that played out. Was the bar aware of past incidents with the exact patrons who started the melee? If so, did they fail to take measures to guard against the potential for violence? Did the bar overserve any of the individuals and did that lead to the violent acts and resulting death and injuries? Are bars liable for the violent and negligent acts of its patrons?

Typically, there are two causes of action that can arise when someone is injured in a bar fight, generally falling under premises or dram shop liability. Premises liability actions typically apply when a bar owner knows of customers’ propensity for violence and fails to take measures to prevent or mitigate it. In the real-life scenario above, if it can be shown that the bar was aware of the dangerous nature of some of its patrons and those patrons were the ones who instigated the fight, i.e. foreseeability, they could potentially be held liable civilly under a negligent premises liability cause of action. If a bar owner takes affirmative measures to secure its premises, such as by adding security guards or security cameras, it can actually create an affirmative duty to protect its patrons from violence. Furthermore, a bar can be liable for the actions of its security guards (bouncers) when someone is injured due to the overzealous actions of the bouncer. Of course, like any property owner, a bar owner can also be liable for a dangerous condition on their property that causes injury.

A bar can also be liable for overserving its patrons which in turn causes an injury. This is known as dram shop liability. This can arise where someone is overserved and causes a car accident after leaving the bar. It can also arise where an overserved patron gets into a fight and injures someone either inside or outside of the bar. For a business or person to be liable under the Dram Shop Act 235 ILCS 5/6-21, they must be 1) licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, 2) pay for a facility knowing the facility will be used for underage drinking, or 3) own or rent property with knowledge that alcoholic beverages will be sold on the property. In dram shop cases, an injured plaintiff must show 1) the bar sold the alcohol, 2) he or she suffered an injury as a result of the action of the overserved patron, 3) a proximate cause between the sale of the alcohol and the intoxication, and 4) the intoxication is at least “a” cause of the injury. Unlike a general premises liability action against a bar, Illinois caps the damages you can receive against the bar under a dram shop theory. Since 2015, the maximum recovery for injury or death to a person is $65,511.99. For actions brought by family members for the loss of means of support or society, the maximum is $80,070.21. Also, unlike a premises liability case which has a statute of limitations of 2 years, the time limit for a dram shop case is only 1 year in Illinois.

Keep in mind that these limits in no way limit the amount of damages you can pursue against another party responsible for the injury or death. Additionally, courts have found businesses liable under common law negligence liability where they may not have actually sold the alcohol to the patrons, but encouraged them to bring their own and consume it at the club.

Regardless of the cause of action you think you might have, it is especially important to contact a personal injury attorney knowledgeable in this area of the law. It is important to have an attorney who: recognizes the applicable statute of limitations, knows exactly how to plead the cause of action, and is well-versed in what damages you are entitled to.

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