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If A Fight Broke Out In Your Business, Are You Liable?

Whether a restaurant, bar or hotel owner is liable for fights depends. “Depends on what?” you ask. Let me tell you by asking and then answering the following questions:

What Did The Police Say?

No one can escape personal liability for their own, direct actions. No amount of insurance, legal maneuvering, or other actions will keep you from being liable if a fight happened at your restaurant or hotel and you joined the fray. Generally, if the cops were called and if they believe that you were one of the fight participants, you need to call a criminal lawyer. That’s one simple answer, but the others are more complex.

What Does Your Lease Say?

Assuming that you were not part of the fight and either you just broke it up or it just happened on your property, your lease will generally answer the question of  liability at least to your landlord. Generally, the owner will be liable for repairs under a lease.

Do You Have Insurance?

Unlike the above, your lease won’t tell you if are liable to the person who was injured. However, if you have premises liability or even a commercial general liability policy, it will often cover fights at your premises. Thus, if you have insurance, whether you are liable or not, you may not have to pay out of your own pocket.

What Did You Do Before, During And After The Fight?

If you knew that a fight was about to break out and you didn’t do anything to prevent it, you may be liable. If you can tell that a fight is imminent, kindly ask the patrons to leave (and make sure they actually leave the parking lot). If a fight has already begun, don’t just become a spectator and do nothing to stop it. While you don’t have to break up a fight if doing so would put your physical safety at risk, you should take reasonable steps to stop the fight. Lastly, after a fight is over, be sure to make sure nobody is seriously injured. Then, make a record of what happened by calling the police, writing down the details of the altercation, and how you responded (i.e. asked patrons to leave and not come back, etc.). That way, it is less likely that you will later be accused of being negligent in handling the situation.

Fights in restaurants, bars and hotels are sometimes unavoidable. But you can protect yourself and your business in advance by taking some precautionary measures like obtaining insurance as well as formulating a procedure to handle fights if and when they occur. Be sure to train your staff on the procedures so that everybody at your restaurant is on the same page.

Take-Aways

Remember the following when dealing with fights in restaurants and bars:

  • Have insurance for possible fights.
  • Have a procedure for your staff to deal with possible fights.
  • Follow the procedure to both head-off possible fights and to protect your non-involved patrons.
  • Check your patrons after the fight to provide assistance, if needed.

Have you had issues with fights in your business? Please share your stories.

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Matthew Sanderson is a transactional attorney focused on complex transactions. His client base includes numerous industries, both domestically and internationally, and the most served industries include restaurant, technology, energy, and real estate.

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