Articles Posted in Dram Shop Liability

This story not only seemed appropriate for the blog, but also struck close to home for me. A bar owner in Brighton, Mass, is facing criminal charges for covering up and hiding evidence about an injury sustained at his bar, Roggies. It struck close to home for me since every Boston College Law student in the past 10-15 years spent some time at Roggies, including myself. In a way I am sad to see the owner in such trouble, but the details of the case are truly shocking.


Apparently, a 20 year old Irish exchange student was seriously injured after falling down a flight of stairs at Roggies Bar. When the bar owner found out about the injury, he allegedly told his employees to take the victim to the back parking lot and call the police. The cops, however, were never called and the victim sat in the back parking lot with serious injuries for over a half hour until a passerby noticed him and alerted police. He finally arrived at the hospital with life threatening injuries and is lucky to be alive. To make matters worse, the owner of the bar allegedly offered to pay off witnesses regarding the incident.

It is not clear what caused the young mans fall but it likely due to negligence on the part of the bar else they would not feel the need to hide the incident. it is possible that the young man was sober and fell down a faulty stairwell, or it could be that the young man was highly inebriated when he fell down the stairs. This latter scenario would cause considerable problems for the bar since the young man was under the legal drinking age. Even for adults a bar can be held responsible for injuries sustained if the victim is over served and his or her inebriation is a direct cause of the accident or injury. When the victim is under the legal drinking age, however, any drinks served to him is negligence.

Providence has its share of violence occurring in, and just outside, of its many bars and nightclubs. Police details seem to break up fights every weekend and the City has made efforts to curb the violence including, but not limited to, revoking the liquor license of bars with frequent problems of violence, attempting to reduce closing time from 2 am to 1 am, and by increasing the police detail outside the clubs at closing time.

If the injury or attack occurs inside, or immediately outside, of a bar or nightclub, you may have a case for negligent security. Negligent security is a form of premises liability, in which the landlord may be responsible for the injury sustained. A property owner (including bar and night club owners) has a responsibility to assess the danger to their invited guests and take measures to prevent injury. Landlords can try to protect guests by hiring additional security guards, limiting the number of guests allowed inside, monitoring the amount of alcohol served to individual patrons, increased lighting, training their security personnel to properly respond to an incident, and many other methods. Such steps are particular necessary in high crime areas or in bars or nightclubs with “questionable” reputations.

I represent the family of a young man who was murdered outside of a Providence nightclub, and I receive many other inquiries from people who have been attacked inside a bar. It seems to me an increasingly serious problem occurring with all too much frequency. If you have been physically attacked or sexually assaulted inside a public facility, you may have a case for negligent security. And keep in mind that these types of cases, while most common in bars and nightclubs, can occur almost anywhere. Malls, sports stadiums, schools and universities, and apartment buildings all have a duty to protect invited guests and prevent foreseeable injuries.

My office has been heavily involved with a fatal attack that occurred outside a Providence nightclub and in the past few weeks I have received a number of calls from people injured (sometimes severely) at a bar or nightclub. Sometimes the attack occurs inside the club and sometimes it happens outside in the street or parking lot.

It should not seem as a surprise that I have received a lot of calls about these types of cases since it seems every day that the news in Rhode Island is talking about a fight, stabbing, or shooting outside a Rhode Island club. You have to realize that a night out can be fun, but also dangerous. Sometimes it is best to walk away from a threat or potential fight because you do not know the other person involved and he may be capable of murder.

So if you or a friend is attacked and injured outside of a nightclub, who is to blame? Obviously, you can sue the person who attacked you and caused the injury. However, it is highly unlikely that someone starting fights at 3 a.m. is going to have any assets worth going after. The only real option is to try and hold the bar or nightclub responsible.

Bars and nightclubs make a great deal of money selling alcohol to patrons, but because of the dangerous nature of alcohol they have a responsibility to make sure that patrons do not become drunk or violent. Also, they must act quickly and responsibly in defusing a dangerous situation if it appears that a fight is about to break out. This may include calling the police if necessary (something which clubs never want to do because of the bad publicity!) If your injury is caused by a drunken and disorderly patron or because security failed to appropriately act, then the club may be responsible under liquor liability laws.

If you have been threatened or targeted in any way while inside a club it is important to inform security so that they may take reasonable action. Failure to act appropriately can be grounds for liability if you are injured. Look for witnesses and make a record with management and the police (if applicable) so that your side of the story is clearly on record.

Unfortunately, many insurance companies are now denying coverage for negligent security. This means that even if the club is insured they may not have any coverage if liability is based on improper or negligent security. In these instances, you need an experienced Rhode Island personal injury attorney who can think outside the box and try to find a way to compensate you for the injury suffered.

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I found this interesting article on the legal blog watch. Following my recent post about the Red Room and liquor liability, comes news that a New Jersey Appellate Court has now ruled that drunk drivers, injured in an auto accident of their own causing, can now sue the bar or club that served them despite obvious intoxication.

I suspect that such a ruling will be shot down at the Supreme Court level or overturned by the legislature, not necessarily because the reasoning is flawed, but because public policy demands it. In fact, the ruling is already in conflict with a New Jersey law that states a driver convicted of DUI shall have no cause of action over his or her injuries. A reading of the decision shows that the Court gave greater weight to the Dram Shop Act than to the above stated law. The NJ Dram Shop Act, similar to our own, indicates that ANYONE injured as a result of the negligent service of alcohol may have an action against the licensed provider of that alcohol. The New Jersey Appellate Court reasoned that there is no bar to ANYONE including the drunk driver.

Drunk drivers are often vilified because it is well known that it is a reckless and dangerous activity that puts peoples lives at risk. This is indisputable. Unfortunately, one of the effects of alcohol is to reduce our ability to reason and use proper judgment. Isn’t it reasonable, therefore, to hold the negligent server of alcohol responsible since they profit heavily from increased intoxication. Please know that I am only playing devil’s advocate here, and I understand that a reasonable person would cut himself off before he gets to a point in which he can no longer drive.

I found this ruling interesting. It expands the scope of the Dram Shop Act, and I believe rightfully so. That is not to say that drunk drivers should be awarded for their reckless behavior, but a licensed vendor of liquor, an intoxicating and dangerous drug, needs to be more carefully regulated and held responsible when they place profits over safety. Again, I imagine that this ruling will be overturned for public policy reasons – but it is interesting nonetheless.

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Yesterday I wrote a post about a Virginia Supreme Court decision imposing liability on the hosts of a sleepover following a fatal auto accident. The parents of the victim had requested that their daughter not be allowed to ride in any car with teenage boys, and the Court imposed liability on the hosts for failing to follow through with that instruction and for failing to adequately care for their guest.

I began thinking that the Rhode Island Supreme Court would almost definitely deny such a claim. Rhode Island is among the States which do not recognize social host liability. Ferreira v. Strack, 652 A.2d 965, Willis v. Omar, 954 A.2d 126. Social host liability laws hold hosts and homeowners responsible for injuries sustained by a third party as a result of their actions. For example, if a homeowner throws a party in which a person becomes severely intoxicated and later kills a person in a car accident, the homeowner would be responsible for the role they played. It is dram shop liability on the homeowner.

Rhode Island, however, fails to recognize this liability because the Supreme Court does not believe that the host owes a duty to an unrelated third party. Rhode Island will only impose social host liability if the homeowner allows underage drinkers to become intoxicated or provides alcohol to minors which later results in a tragic accident. This law is relatively recent and is a product of the legislature. The Supreme Court has often stated that it defers to the legislature in establishing new causes of action. Therefore, social host liability will never be imposed in RI unless the legislature drafts such a statute.

In the world of interesting injury lawsuits comes one from Tennessee.  A college student is suing the Coyote Ugly Saloon, made famous by the movie of the same name and known for women dancing on top of the bar, after she fell off the makeshift dancefloor striking her head.

I would be quite astonished if this was the first time the bar was sued for such an event.  The situation does present interesting liability questions.  According to the plaintiff, she was encouraged to climb on to the bar by employees of the club.  She claims to have fallen because the bar top was slippery with drinks.  So it sounds like a great liability claim until we consider that she is a college student in a bar.  I’m going to guess that defense will argue she was bombed.  Then again, all the more reason for the employees to keep her from dancing on the bar.

Here’s wishing her a quick recovery.