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Evidence of prior bar brawls admissible in premises liability case

The Second District Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Bellevue v. Frenchy's South Beach Cafe, Inc. that evidence of prior incidents of disorderly conduct by third persons was admissible in a premises liability case.
 
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    February 01, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Evidence of prior bar brawls admissible in premises liability case

Article provided by Gross & Schuster, P.A.
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The Second District Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Bellevue v. Frenchy's South Beach Cafe, Inc. that evidence of prior incidents of disorderly conduct by third persons was admissible in a premises liability case. A woman injured in an attack by one or more intoxicated patrons at a restaurant and bar establishment filed a negligence claim against the property owner, claiming that the owner negligently failed to provide adequate security on the premises.

The Facts

Late one night the plaintiff went to a popular restaurant and beach bar in Clearwater, Florida, arriving there just before closing. She was planning to give a ride home to her roommate, a bartender there. A family of Irish tourists was in the restaurant. They had been drinking heavily for several hours and were "rowdy and disorderly." Aside from the tourists, the only other people in the restaurant at that time were the bartender, the plaintiff's male friend, and the manager. A verbal exchange occurred between one of the tourists and the plaintiff's friend. The manager instructed the bartender to handle the matter and then went upstairs to perform his closeout duties for the night. The bartender, who was described as a "petite woman," was the only employee left to manage the situation. The rowdiness intensified, resulting in the bartender being "bumped or shoved" by a tourist. The situation further escalated into a physically violent confrontation and the plaintiff was severely beaten. The tourists were arrested, but fled the country after they were released on bail.

Procedural history

The plaintiff sued the restaurant, claiming that it failed to maintain adequate security when it was on notice that its patrons were prone to become rowdy or violent. Before trial, the trial court ruled that only 12 of 60 prior incidents of disorderly conduct by third persons occurring in and around the restaurant would be admissible at trial. The excluded incidents included such matters as the stabbing of a night cook in front of the restaurant, patrons being ejected for being vulgar or rude, or fighting, or for harassing and threatening employees, a near-fight between two patrons and a waiter, patrons who were so drunk they were "out of control," reports of patrons fighting or about to fight, and other similar events.

The ruling prevented the plaintiff's security expert from discussing the other 48 excluded incidents as further support of an opinion that the restaurant was negligent in failing to take adequate security measures to prevent attacks against persons on the premises.

The Second District's ruling

The Second District reversed the trial court's decision, citing prior case law which holds that such incidents are relevant and admissible. The court's opinion stated that it was the jury's role to determine the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, and whether the restaurant was negligent in not providing adequate security. In order to determine these issues, the jury was lawfully permitted to hear evidence that "based on past experience, a proprietor knew of or should have recognized the likelihood of disorderly conduct by third persons in general which might endanger the safety of the proprietor's patrons."

The Second District ordered the case remanded for a new trial, but cautiously noted that they were not mandating that all 60 incidents should be admitted into evidence. Evidence of a prior event is only admissible, said the court, if it put the restaurant on notice that the attack against the plaintiff was foreseeable.

Individuals suffering loss due to another's wrongful acts should contact a competent attorney experienced in personal injury matters.



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