A 24-year-old man was killed outside of a bar after becoming involved in an argument with the bouncer. The young man was reportedly punched repeatedly by a bouncer who worked for the bar. His parents have filed a lawsuit against the bar owners, alleging negligence in hiring, and negligent supervision of employees. Palo Alto Online reports the parents of the deceased are also making a claim under premises liability law.
Premises liability law is a body of law imposing requirements on property owners. All individuals and businesses who own buildings and land-- including residential or commercial land-- have certain obligations to provide a safe space. This means, among other things, making sure patrons are reasonably safe from violence or assault. When a property owner fails to ensure they take reasonable steps to mitigate risks of criminal acts to visitors, the owner can be held liable for negligent security.
When is a Bar Held Responsible for Negligent Security?
When a bar hires a bouncer to provide security, the bar can become responsible for the actions of the employee on-the-job. This means if the bouncer becomes violent with a patron or is negligent and makes a mistake in the way the job is done (like accidentally hurting someone when removing him from the bar), there is a chance the owner of the establishment will become liable for the bouncer's actions. This is because the bouncer is considered an agent acting on his employer's behalf. Unlike security guards, bouncers are not generally required to be licensed or have any special training or skills, which makes bars vulnerable to potential lawsuits if confrontations get out of hand.
While there are a number of legal theories that can be used to hold a bar responsible if a bouncer harms a patron, cases become more complicated in situations where patrons get hurt for other reasons. For example, if a person who was drinking at the bar gets hurt because someone attacks him in the parking lot, the bar is obviously not employing the random stranger who perpetrated the attack. Agency laws do not apply to hold the bar responsible in this case, as they do when an employee acts in the official line of duty. However, the bar could still be held accountable if the establishment should have provided better security in the parking lot and was negligent in its failure to do so.
The amount of security a bar or other establishment must provide can vary based on many factors including the risk of violence, any past instances of similar criminal acts, and the reasonableness of the precautions that would be necessary to prevent the harm from occurring. Every single bar fight or act of violence cannot be presented, so the question is whether the establishment did enough or whether it failed to fulfill its duty to patrons in a way that led to harm. When a failure of duty occurred, this is a situation where a victim can make a successful negligent security lawsuit.