Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Negligent Security Verdict Against Pittsburgh Bar


Negligent security in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania has been the subject of my last couple of posts. Continuing on with the negligent security theme is a review of an Allegheny County case from 2007 in which the plaintiff obtained a sizeable verdict.

In Evanovich v. Molinari and Beemer’s Inc., the plaintiff, Evanovich, in his 20s, was hit in the face with "brass knuckles" by Molinari outside Beemer’s bar/restaurant in McKeesport. The defendants included the individual assailant, who was not represented at trial, and the corporate owner of the bar where the incident occurred.

Evanovich alleged that the Beemer’s was negligent in failing to provide sufficient security so as to have prevented the assault. The bar argued that the fight took place after closing and it thus owed no duty to protect Evanovich from what happened.
Evanovich was actually a part-time bouncer at the bar but was not working the night of the incident. After "last call" Evanovich left the bar and observed a fight between two women outside. Evidence showed that "last call" was between 1:45 a.m. and 1:50 a.m. The bar is not permitted to serve alcohol after 2:00 a.m.
Evanovich claimed that the bar’s manager attempted to break up the fight, but was unable to do so and called the plaintiff for assistance. The plaintiff claimed that, as he was attempting to intervene, the assailant, connected to one of the women punched him in the face with "brass knuckles.”

The plaintiff argued that the "bouncer" on duty was negligently sent home at 1:30 a.m. by the defendant bar. The bouncer's function was to check identification at the door and patrol the outside area. The plaintiff argued that the bar had experienced previous fights and the establishment was located in a high crime area. The plaintiff contended that, had the bouncer still been on duty, he would have prevented the lewd activity from occurring outside the door, the plaintiff would not have been asked to break up the fight and would not have been injured.

A female witness testified that she went to the bar with one of the women in the fight and when she saw what was happening, went to her car. The witness testified that she returned five minutes later to see the plaintiff on the ground bleeding. The witness asserted that the bar was still open when the plaintiff was injured.

The plaintiff sustained multiple facial injuries including a broken nose, deviated septum and multiple lacerations as a result of the assault. The plaintiff has been left with permanent scarring above the lip and on his cheek.

The defendant argued that records showed that police were called at 2:16 a.m. and that the bar had closed at 2 a.m. The defense also argued that it was not responsible for the criminal acts of a third party and that the plaintiff had recovered from his injuries.
The jury found the individual assailant 60% negligent and the defendant bar/restaurant 40% negligent. The jury awarded $ 200,000 in compensatory damages for which both defendants are jointly liable. The jury also awarded $ 100,000 in punitive damages against the individual assailant. Post-trial motions are pending.

It appears Evanovich was successful in this negligent security case because he established the timing of the assault and proved that the defendant's bar was still open at that time. Also, the plaintiff was able to produce a witness who was sitting in her car when the assault took place. This witness supported the contention that the bar was still open when she returned from her car to see the plaintiff on the ground bleeding. This was critical in refuting the defense position that the bar was closed when the assault occurred.

Amazingly, the defendant bar offered $ 5,000 to settle the case prior to trial. The plaintiff demanded $ 25,000. A finding of at least 1% negligence against the bar made it responsible, under Pennsylvania's joint and several liability laws, for 100% of the $200,000 in compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff. A punitive damage claim against the defendant bar was dismissed by the court before verdict. The jury assessed $ 100,000 in punitive damages against the unrepresented assailant.

We can see from this case the potential implications of negligent security lawsuits both for the plaintiff and defendant.  We also see some key differences between this case and that of the University student suing Temple.  First off, a bar is a much less sympathetic party than a University.  Second, the bar took the untenable position that the bar was closed at the time of the altercation when there was strong testimony to the contrary.  The university on the other hand did not deny what happened but argued that there was nothing more they could have done to prevent the assault and thus the injuries were unforeseeable.  Both plaintiffs in each case were sympathetic with maybe a slight edge going to Evanovich for his heroic efforts going above and beyond the call of duty.  The only factor I think was more in the favor of the plaintiff in the case against the university is that people expect their students (children) to be safe at school.  But something very unsafe happened deep inside the protective walls of the university.  Thus, I would not have been surprised at all had Temple been held accountable for what happened.  And, in fact, they were as they were found negligent but the jury determined that negligence was not the cause of the injuries. Share this post :
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