Victims of an intentional, criminal assault may be entitled to collect damages from the owner of the property where the attack occurred in certain circumstances under premises liability provisions of civil law.
This was the case in Bitgood v. Gordon Greene Post of Am. Legion before the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The underlying incident involved a bar fight that started inside and spilled into the parking lot.
The court did apportion some comparative negligence to plaintiff, but still affirmed his award of $543,500, which was reduced relative to plaintiff’s own role in the incident. South Carolina follows similar guidelines with regard to comparative negligence. The only rule is plaintiff’s negligence can’t exceed that of defendant’s. This is referred to as a 51 percent bar – meaning if plaintiff’s own negligence is calculated at 51 percent, he or she is barred from collecting damages.
Our Rock Hill injury lawyers understand in the Bitgood case, plaintiff was apportioned 20 percent of the fault for the incident that caused his injuries.
According to court records, plaintiff and another man were patrons at a bar located on defendant’s property. The two men were involved in an altercation, beginning first inside the bar and then again outside in the parking lot 10 minutes later. As a result of the fight, plaintiff sustained serious injuries and had to be hospitalized for two weeks, followed by a two-month recovery at home.
His injuries reportedly included: A broken back, lacerated liver, removed gallbladder, damage to his right arm, colon damage, partial removal of intestines and bowels.
Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner, who countered plaintiff’s own comparative negligence exceeded any role it may have played. Testimony from plaintiff indicated he had no memory of the incident, and no witnesses could indicate why or how the fight began.
A bartender working that night testified man with whom plaintiff fought was “belligerent, obnoxious, vulgar, antagonizing other patrons and looking for a fight.” A supervisor on duty that night testified the man was known to have a black belt in karate, and was “known to get violent.”
Following the first fight inside the bar, no one contacted police, despite a supervisor calling out for staff to do so. One employee later said she did not call because the attacker left and she did not believe he would return. The bar’s policy at the time was to contact police if “a situation gets out-of-control.”
Police testified if they had been called immediately after the first incident, officers could have responded within five to six minutes – before the second incident occurred. A responding investigator testified he would expect a bar to contact police during or after each physical altercation in order to secure a scene. That officer testified this bar had not met that standard of care.
Despite plaintiff’s own 20 percent comparative fault, jury found defendant bore the greater fault, and required payment of nearly $550,000.
Defendant argued on appeal the evidence was unevenly balanced, and the court had given greater weight to the testimony of plaintiff witnesses. However, the state supreme court ruled the evidence was evenly balanced and thus, the jury verdict should stand.
Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Bitgood v. Gordon Greene Post of Am. Legion, Jan. 16, 2015, Rhode Island Supreme Court
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