If a business fails to do this, it’s a type of negligence known as premises liability. A specific type of premises liability is called negligent security. It involves the duty of the business to make sure reasonable measures are in place to protect patrons and guests from third-party criminal actions. The key here is that the crime in question is foreseeable. That’s typically proven by showing a pattern of past similar crimes in the same place or same general area.
In the recent case of Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, the Indiana Court of Appeals was tasked with weighing whether the trial court or appeals court made the right call with regard to a negligent security lawsuit.
According to court records, the undisputed facts were that three friends – including the plaintiff – were at a small bar in the late evening hours on one night in August 2010. They were seated at a table and were socializing with friends. Meanwhile, another patron was seated nearby with his wife.
At some point, the man thought he heard someone from the plaintiff’s table disparage his wife. At this point, the man produced a hand gun and shot at the man from the plaintiff’s table. The man shot both his target and the plaintiff, as well as another table mate. All three shooting victims did survive, but they suffered serious injuries. The gunman was arrested and later pleaded guilty to three counts of battery with a deadly weapon – all felonies.
The plaintiff filed a complaint against the bar, alleging a failure to provide security for its patrons by failing to search the gunman for weapons and for failing to warn the plaintiff that others might be armed and dangerous.
The defendant bar, however, argued the shooting was not foreseeable, and therefore it had no duty to anticipate the gunman’s conduct – or protect others from it.
The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted summary judgment. The appeals court reversed, but the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s order.
Although the appeals court held that reasonable foreseeability is not necessary to prove the bar breached its duty of care, the state supreme court disagreed.
The court noted that the baseline requirements of negligence in personal injury law are that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, and the defendant’s breach of duty proximately caused a compensable injury to the plaintiff.
The supreme court noted that while case law hasn’t been crystal clear about foreseeability issues in cases involving liability for third-party attacks, the totality of the circumstances is important to consider.
Proprietors owe a duty to business invitees to use reasonable care in protecting them from injuries caused by other guests on their property. This includes making sure there is enough staff to control instances of disorderly conduct. Bars are going to need more security than other establishments because of the late hours and the presence of alcohol. Landowners don’t have to ensure their guests’ safety, but they do have to take reasonable measures to protect them from foreseeable criminal attacks by third parties.
The court ruled that foreseeability was a necessity in these cases when it comes to showing whether reasonable care was used. There remains some conflict with regard to how that standard should be applied.
Here, based on the totality of the circumstances, the trial court was correct in finding the shooting wasn’t foreseeable. Those circumstances include:
- The bar was in a relatively safe neighborhood;
- There had never been a shooting at the bar before this night;
- No one had ever seen anyone with a gun in this bar before that night; and
- The shooter had a reputation as a joker, rather than someone with violent tendencies.
Accordingly, the supreme court reinstated the trial court’s ruling.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Oct. 26, 2016, Indiana Supreme Court
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