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Bar Owner Not Liable for Injuries from Barroom Brawl
Description Sudden, vicious attack of bar patron by another patron does not constitute the element of causation under negligence claim against bar owners; therefore Minnesota Supreme Court reversed negligence finding against bar owners.
Topic Torts
Key Words Foreseeability, Dram Shop Liability, Negligence
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Martinez assaulted Boone in the Palace Bar, inflicting multiple stab wounds. Boone had beaten up Martinez in a fight years before. Martinez sued the bar "negligent failure to exercise reasonable care to control and secure its patrons and premises." The jury apportioned 30 percent of the fault to the bar, 60 percent to Martinez, and 10 percent to Boone. The trial judge granted a directed verdict for Palace Bar. The court of appeals reversed, finding that the sale of alcohol by the bar to Martinez was a direct cause of Boone's injuries and that Boone was not negligent; the bar was 34.2 percent at fault; Martinez 65.8 percent at fault. The bar appealed.
Decision Reversed and remanded. To "establish an innkeeper's liability, a plaintiff must prove four elements:
1. the proprietor must be put on notice of the offending party's vicious or dangerous propensities by some act or threat,
2. the proprietor must have an adequate opportunity to protect the injured patron,
3. the proprietor must fail to take reasonable steps to protect the injured patron, and
4. the injury must be foreseeable."
The evidence was that on the night of the fight, "Martinez looked like he was obviously intoxicated and angry." That is not sufficient evidence to allow the jury to decide if the bar was aware of his vicious or dangerous propensities. The evidence established that the assault was sudden and unforeseeable (Martinez hit Boone from behind on the head with a beer mug). There was no warning of the attack and it was over within three minutes. The bar is not liable.
Citation Boone v. Martinez, ---N.W.2d--- (1997 WL 441762, Sup. Ct., Minn.)
567 N.W.2d 508 (Sup. Ct., Minn., 1997)

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