Third Party Liability Stemming From Criminal Attack

In the criminal courts, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. barstool.jpg

In civil court, plaintiff attorneys need not show the defendant meted out even a single blow. In third-party liability cases, a defendant could be held liable for the criminal actions of another person if the plaintiff can show that he or she was made vulnerable to the crime by the defendant’s breach of duty.

Our Spartanburg personal injury lawyers know this comes up a lot in cases of negligent security, where a landlord or some establishment fails to ensure the property is appropriately secured from intruders or aggressive individuals.

Recently, it was used to hold a bar patron liable for injuries sustained by his friend in a drunken fight – even though he hadn’t thrown a single punch. While on the surface that might seem unfair, it begins to make sense when we delve into the facts of Dorsey v. Reider, recently reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

Here, the victim went to a neighborhood bar with his friend and an acquaintance. The trio were there for some time and all three became intoxicated.

At some point, the victim’s friend became intoxicated to the point of belligerence. Witnesses reported he began threatening to fight everyone, and he refused to lower his voice.

Eventually, the victim derided the victim’s behavior by calling him an expletive before walking out of the bar. Not wanting to let the matter drop, the victim’s “friend” (the defendant) and the acquaintance followed the victim outside into the parking lot in a clear effort to confront him.

The two cornered the victim in between two vehicles and would not allow him to pass. One of the vehicles belonged to the defendant. After several minutes of verbal confrontation, the acquaintance entered the defendant’s vehicle, where he whipped out a tomahawk. He then used this tool to attack the victim, rendering him temporarily unconscious and suffering serious injuries.

The two men then fled. The defendant would later deny having any recollection of what happened in that parking lot.

The victim later received treatment at a nearby hospital. He suffered a closed head injury, a neck injury, a severe laceration to his head, a fracture of his nasal bones and nerve damage causing long-term pain to the back of his head and back. The injuries had also left him with blurred vision, chronic headaches and dizziness.

The plaintiff later sued his former friend, and a jury sided with him, granting him a total of $1.5 million for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

The defendant appealed, and the Third District Court of Appeals reversed the earlier verdict and remanded, holding that the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff. The appellate court did concede that the defendant’s actions resulted in the victim being unable to escape, the court found that he didn’t pre-plan the attack with the assailant or have any knowledge that he would use the weapon on his one-time friend.

The case was again appealed to the state supreme court. The court quashed the appellate court’s ruling, upholding the district court’s initial findings. The high court pointed out that it wasn’t necessary for the defendant to have had advance knowledge of the exact injury the attacker would inflict in order for him to owe the plaintiff a duty of care. The court found that the defendant had a duty arising from the general facts of the case. He created a risk of foreseeable harm to the victim by refusing to let him escape. For this, he was liable.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Dorsey v. Reider, March 27, 2014, Florida Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
UNC Hazing Incident Highlights Personal Injury Rights, March 3, 2014, Spartanburg Personal Injury Lawyers

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