It’s late on a Saturday night and you are at your favorite dive bar in the city. An unruly customer is drunk and causing a scene. He is shouting at other patrons, grabbing at women, and threatening to fight anyone who even looks at him. When he bumps into you, you say “watch where you are going man!” to which he responds by sucker punching you in the face. One Emergency Room trip later, you are staring down thousands of dollars in medicals bills and your assailant is sitting in a drunk tank with criminal charges pending. Sure, you can pursue him for medical bills, but what if he is not collectible? Do you have any chance of being reimbursed for your medical bills? And what about pain and suffering? What if surgery is required? The good news is that you may have a legal cause of action against the bar and that bar is likely to have insurance coverage for your injuries.
Wisconsin law provides that the proprietor of a place of business has a “duty of ordinary care” to protect his customers from harm, so long as that harm could have reasonably been discovered by the business before it occurred. This rule is described in Wisconsin Jury Instruction 8045. This means a bar or night club cannot sit back and do nothing when its customers begin acting in a way that may create a threat of harm to other customers. The business must be proactive and take steps to reduce the harm to its customers including, for example, hiring security, limiting the amount of alcohol it serves, removing dangerous customers from the premises, or banning customers who have a history of incidents at the business from returning.
For example, in Kowalczuk v. Rotter (63 Wis. 2d 511), a customer was attacked while at a bar in the presence of a bartender. There was no evidence showing that the employees could have anticipated the attack. However, shortly thereafter, a police officer discovered the same customer was being beaten up by three people on a nearby sidewalk. The court held that the bar had a duty, once it became aware of the attack, to “use such means of protection as were available.” The fact that the bar did not take any steps to protect the customer after the first assault supported the claim that the bar was negligent leading to the customer’s injuries. Even though the customer was injured by other persons, the bar could still be held liable for its own negligence in not protecting the customer.
If you have been injured at a bar, tavern, night club, or restaurant, please call us at 262-652-5050 for a free consultation. Our attorneys are experienced in handling all types of injury cases and know how to maximize recovery for our clients. We have handled personal injury cases throughout Wisconsin including Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, and Walworth County. Please give us a call today.