Restaurant, bar, and nightclub owners are responsible for keeping their properties safe for their patrons who are eating, drinking, or having fun there. This means it’s possible for them to be held responsible for certain occurrences on the premises.
Most of these occurrences, though, are things that the owner should be able to control. I.e., spills that lead to slips and falls, poorly lit parking areas that cause problems, improperly prepared food, neglected upkeep, etc.
In all these cases, an injured patron will need to show that your establishment essentially created the hazard, had knowledge of the potential danger, and did nothing to correct the issues. If this can be done, you will be held liable for any injuries they may have sustained.
But what about something you can’t control?
We’re talking about the behavior of your guests.
You have no idea who will walk through your door. You have no idea what their day was like – if they’re in a good mood or ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. You have no idea if they’ve been drinking, if they’re angry at the people with them, or if they have a grudge against a waiter in your employ.
Anyone could start acting unruly in your establishment at any time.
Are you liable for them?
If they start a fight in your bar, is that your responsibility?
If they damage your property, who is going to pay for that?
If they destroy another patron’s property, are you going to be held liable?
If this isn’t a situation that you created, and it isn’t a situation that is easy to predict, where is the liability?
Your History Matters
One of the determining factors of your liability in these cases is the history of your establishment.
If a bar, for example, has a history of rowdy fights and other incidents related to intoxication, the owner could be held liable when one patron assaults another.
If, on the other hand, there are no such incidents in your history, and a customer suddenly becomes unruly and throws their glass across the room or hits another patron for unknown reasons, it will be much harder to prove that anyone working at the bar could have predicted this behavior. This means there was nothing they could have done to prevent the situation, and therefore less likely to be found liable.
This is sometimes referred to as “foreseeability.” Courts will usually determine whether or not a situation could have been prevented on whether or not there were similar occurrences in the past that should have made it very clear to the owner that potential dangers existed.
So, Can You Be Held Liable?
The simple answer is: yes.
But, as we discussed above, it will be dependent on a number of things. The most important factor will be whether or not the patron can establish that you had a duty to provide better protection for them, and that the situation (more specifically, an “assault”) was somehow foreseeable. If they can do that, your establishment could be held liable.
Of course, different states have different laws on the matter, and what is deemed foreseeable in one place may not be judged the same in another, which is why it’s important to work with an insurance agency that understands these aspects of the hospitality industry and is actively working in – and understands the laws of – many different states.
Restaurant liability may be very strict in some locations, while others take a wider view of the situation.
For example, some states only consider you liable if you had a pre-existing relationship of some kind with the unruly patron or the injured guest, while others look at the entirety of the situation.
Creating a Safe Environment
No matter what the state’s regulations are, one way or another, restaurant, bar, and nightclub owners have a duty to create a safe environment in which their patrons can relax and enjoy their time without concern for their own safety.
It is basically impossible to predict how a patron will act once they’re inside your establishment. It’s even harder to do so if alcohol is being served. You never know how much they’ve had before arriving or how much it will take before they become intoxicated.
Still, there are measures you can take to effectively deal with unruly customers. You need to act quickly and confidently, and do so without harming anyone in the process. When you can handle the situation and return everything to normal, you’ll be able to maintain a safer environment for everyone.
Dealing with the Aftermath
Sometimes, though, stuff happens.
Despite your best efforts, some unruly customers are going to cause problems in your establishment. And, unfortunately, there is a definite chance that the court could find you liable.
You can protect yourself with liquor liability insurance, property insurance, and other types of coverage. Never underestimate the importance of bar and restaurant liability insurance in these situations. You may not be able to predict everyone’s behavior, but you can plan ahead and keep your business running, even when the unexpected happens.