Personal Injury Stories: Drunken Bar Fights

by | Apr 13, 2021

At Garrison Law Firm, we have reviewed a lot of bar fight case scenarios over the last 30 years.

Bar fight cases are difficult because there is usually more than one party at fault.

Candidates for fault are

  • The bar staff for not protecting its patrons
  • The bad actor that hurt the plaintiff
  • The bar for over-serving alcohol to the bad actor
  • The plaintiff for his or her level of participation in provoking, escalating, and/or interfering with the fight.

Sorting out the share of fault is usually tricky.

Let’s use some real-life scenarios to demonstrate.

Bar Fight One: The Nice Man and the Angry Boyfriend

A nice man is at a local “dive” bar hanging out with some friends. He works at the same bar part-time, so he knows the service staff well. He is there on his own time, having a couple of beers.

The boyfriend of the bartender is present drunk and angry at his girlfriend. This boyfriend is getting louder and more threatening. The nice man sticks up for his fellow employee bartender friend and approaches this angry man to calm him down.

When the nice man touches the angry man on the shoulder to talk with him, the angry man turns and breaks a beer bottle over the nice man’s face, lacerating his eye. The nice man lost his eye and has lived with a prosthetic eye now for the past ten years.

Additional facts:

  • The boyfriend had been drunk all evening and angry for several minutes, causing a scene, but no bouncer, bar manager, or employee had intervened.
  • Though loud and angry, the boyfriend had not gotten violent before hurting the nice man.
  • Given that violence was not in process when the nice man approached the situation, the nice man’s judgment to intervene may have been shaky. He could have stayed away or even left the establishment.

The bar insurance paid a reasonable amount because the bad actor got drunk at the bar and because no bar staff took control of the situation timely. The bar paid a settlement on the basis of 25% fault to the bar and 75% fault to the bad actor. The bad actor was uncollectible.

Bar Fight Two: Punched Dead in the Parking Lot

A man stops at a restaurant tavern mid-afternoon to get a burger. When he tries to order his burger, he is informed that he is too late and the kitchen is closed.

He argues with the wait staff about the hours posted on the tavern’s door, indicating that the place is open for business. This man gets angry, boisterous, and insulting to the staff and finally walks out to leave.

An employee follows him out the door and speaks to this man, causing the man to turn around and face the employee. The man says something (unknown) to the employee, and the employee punches the man in the face, knocking him down . . . . . . . . . and the man died, leaving a young wife with a young child.

The deceased man’s wife hired Garrison Law Firm to pursue a wrongful death case.

Lawyer’s observations:

First, the man did not deserve to die because he was an unpleasant patron. The decedent did have a hand in creating his own situation by his behavior.

This employee punching this man does not appear to have been in self-defense, but that is the legal question. Juries don’t always follow blindly their legal directives.

This case was tried by a jury, resulting in a defense verdict in favor of the tavern. No criminal charges were ever filed against the employee.

The bar becomes less involved and, therefore, less liable when the fight is outside on its property, such as a sidewalk or parking lot.

A fight taken outside puts fewer noncombatants at risk. There could be a scenario where what went on inside the bar or outside the bar should have prompted the bar to seek police support, but its failure to do so then led to innocents getting injured.

We have seen this play out where guns were brandished on the bar’s property in the presence of bar personnel, but police help was not immediately sought. The dispute eventually, but not immediately, escalated to an exchange of gunfire, resulting in a bystander being struck.

The Moral of the Story

Bars can be held liable for their fault, but always remember that the actual bad actor will almost always bear the greater burden of the fault.

Let’s say someone gets seriously injured, and a jury determines that the plaintiff’s damages are $100,000. However, the jury puts 75% of the fault on the bad actor, 15% on the plaintiff, and only 10% on the bar. That would mean the bar’s liability would only be $10,000. $15,000 disappears with the plaintiff’s fault, and $75,000 may likely be uncollectible against the bad actor, who might be in prison for his actions.

Even if the bad actor has lots of great insurance coverages under home and auto policies, insurance companies all exclude coverage for intentional bad acts of their insured; insurance won’t owe the plaintiff anything.

So, what do you do if the violent act of a patron or staff member at a bar injures you or someone you know?

  • Get witness names and contact information.
  • Call 911 so there will be a police report.
  • Preserve physical evidence.
  • Seek immediate medical treatment.
  • Call Garrison Law Firm for instructions on preserving your case and for us to put the bar on official notice that it must preserve any surveillance video evidence.

Many lawyers are not interested in bar fight cases, and any lawyer will not be interested in cases where facts can’t be proven, or the potential client was, at some point, a willing combatant. The best cases are those where the bar could have/should have prevented the situation from escalating, and the injured person was an innocent bystander. It would also help if the bar staff over-served alcohol to the bad actor.

**This case summary removes the party’s names and is intended to demonstrate that you may have damages from an experience that may be compensable that you had not considered. Considering such issues with a lawyer at Garrison Law Firm is easy and free. There is no attorney fee until we recover money for you. Call us about your case today.**