When it comes to third-party assaults, property owners can sometimes be held liable for these too, but only if it can be established that the risk of an attack was reasonably foreseeable. Typically, this is shown through presentation of a series of similar incidents at the same establishment or nearby. Many of these cases involve bars, clubs and taverns that serve alcohol.Anytime alcohol is involved, there is a heightened potential for risk, and these businesses must take that into account in determining an appropriate level of security.
In the recent case of Pittman v. Rivera, though, the question before the Nevada Supreme Court was whether a bar could be held liable for a disgruntled patron plowing into a group of other customers just outside the bar, hours after he’d been forcibly removed and then again denied entry upon return.
According to court records, a man was drinking at a local bar in Hastings in December 2007. He was with his girlfriend. The pair got into a verbal and then physical altercation. A bouncer/ employee of the bar stepped in and removed the male half from the bar. As he was being taken outside, he became aggressive and violent toward the bouncer. However, he soon after got into a vehicle with friends and was driven away by a sober driver. The bouncer did not contact the police at that point because he considered the situation “handled.”
Roughly an hour later, as the bar was closing, the patron returned, looking for his girlfriend. The bouncer refused to let him inside. The man once again became aggressive and once again, the bouncer escorted him outside. The man got into his vehicle, raced out of the parking lot, made a U-turn, sped passed the bar, abruptly did another U-turn, revved his engine and stepped on the gas – aiming his vehicle straight for a group of friends who were outside talking.
Plaintiff was standing with this group. An employee saw the driver approach and shouted to plaintiff to get out of the way, but he didn’t react fast enough. He was struck by the driver’s vehicle and sustained serious personal injuries. At that point, the bouncer contacted police.
Driver was arrested, charged and convicted of first-degree assault and leaving the scene of an accident.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the bar owner and management, alleging breach of duty for failure to protect him from that unruly former patron. Defendants argued they owed no duty of care to plaintiff, but even if they did, there was no breach because the driver’s conduct in running plaintiff over with his car wasn’t reasonably foreseeable.
District court ruled defendant did owe a duty of care to plaintiff, but the driver’s conduct was not reasonably foreseeable, so there was no breach.
The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed, finding the bar did owe a general duty to plaintiff based on premises liability. However, when the driver returned to the site driving a vehicle, it was not reasonably foreseeable that he would use that vehicle as a weapon to assault plaintiff.
It should be noted that the driver and his mother, who co-signed his vehicle loan, were found liable for negligence and were ordered to pay plaintiff damages. However, the bar will not be made to pay.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Pittman v. Rivera, May 20, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court
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