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July 17th, 2018

Pennsylvania Law on Restaurant Liability for Alcohol Related Assaults & Fights

Assaults & Fights at Bars, Restaurants or Clubs in Pennsylvania

When assaults or fights break out at bars, restaurants or clubs in Pennsylvania, the business owner can be held liable under 2 sets of circumstances:

  1. the assault or fight was reasonably foreseeable, or
  2. alcohol was served to the parties involved in the assault or fight in violation of Pennsylvania’s liquor service laws (also known as PA dram shop laws).

Was the Assault or Fight Reasonably Foreseeable?

A bar, club or restaurant can be held liable for an assault or fight that occurs on the premises of the establishment. It is pretty well established in Pennsylvania that this includes inside the building and outside, in the parking lot or other outside area under the control of the business, i.e., behind the building, trash area, etc. A recent Philadelphia jury awarded about $10 million to the family of a woman who died after a fight in the parking lot of a restaurant. Her skull was crushed after she was punched and fell backwards into a moving car. Courts may also allow liability in cases where an assault or incident occurs on an adjacent sidewalk.

However, the business owner isn’t going to be held liable for a fight or assault that happens entirely off the premises. For example, a person gets drunk at a bar, goes home and assaults their spouse. The bar wouldn’t be held liable for that, but if the same person went into the parking lot and got into a fight with a random person, the bar could be held liable, if the assault was reasonably foreseeable.

What’s Reasonably Foreseeable?

Whether an event or incident is reasonably foreseeable depends on the circumstances and facts. What’s important is the sequence of events that happened before the incident occurred. This includes things that happened in the weeks, days and minutes before the event or incident. Were the people involved in the incident known to be aggressive? Did a physical altercation happen before the actual assault or fight broke out? Was there a recent spike in crime on and around the premises?

In lawsuits against bars, restaurants and clubs for an assault or fight, the facts usually involve the failure to take appropriate action, including:

  • failing to call law enforcement,
  • failing to hire enough security staff,
  • failing to enforce occupancy limits, or
  • failing to warn customers of the risk of criminal activity.

Example: Fight Between Two Groups of Customers

At an over-crowded bar in Philadelphia, two large groups of customers who’ve been served alcohol exchange words over a two hour long baseball game on a Friday night. After the game, someone throws a beer bottle and two people from the groups start pushing each other. There are over 20 people in the two groups. A single bouncer comes to keep the peace and make sure everyone leaves. The bouncer is unable to maintain control of the 2 large groups and a huge fight breaks out. One person suffers major injuries when he is kicked in the head repeatedly by 3 members of the other group.

In this instance, liability would be based on the fact that the bar failed to hire enough security on the night of the fight. The bar’s own written policy was to have at least 3 bouncers present on sports nights on Fridays and Saturdays. Given that the two large groups began a verbal altercation that lasted the duration of the game and that the two groups had been drinking alcohol, it was foreseeable that a fight would break out, especially after the beer bottle was thrown and the pushing started. With only one bouncer on staff that night, the bar should have called law enforcement.

Dram Shop Law Violations

Bars, restaurants and clubs in PA can also be held liable for violating Pennsylvania liquor service laws (dram shop laws). It’s clearly indicated by statute that liquor service establishments cannot serve alcohol to patrons who are visibly intoxicated or to minors. Doing so will result in liability when an injury occurs due to a fight or assault.

For instance, a bar serves alcohol to a minor who later gets into a fight with a customer in the bar. The customer sustains serious injuries. The bar would be held liable to the injured customer for serving alcohol to the minor.

Get more info, visit the Alcohol & DUI Accident Law Library.

Pennsylvania Injury Firm – We Handle Lawsuits Against Bars, Restaurants and Clubs

We represent victims of assault and fights against different types of businesses. Contact our lawyers for a free consultation. (866) 641-0806

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.