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What Duty Does a Bar Have to its Patrons After They Leave the Premises?

This was primarily the question taken up in the recent case, Glynn v. Orange Circle Lounge, Inc. (2023) 2023 Cal App LEXIS 756.

The plaintiff, Nicholas, and his friends were patrons at the defendant’s bar.  At around 12:15 a.m. on July 29, 2018, a fight broke out between Nicholas and several other patrons of the bar. Bar security broke up the fight and Nicholas and his friends as well as the group of persons they were fighting with were escorted outside.

Another brief altercation may have ensued outside, but was quickly stopped by security, after which the two groups left and went their separate ways. The bar’s security did not call the police.

While walking to another bar, Nicholas and friends encountered their assailants from the bar.  The assailants drove past them and threw a beer bottle, hitting Nicholas’ friend in the face. Nicholas swore at the assailants, who stopped their car and got out. A fight ensued and Nicholas was stabbed to death.

Nicholas’ parents sued defendants for wrongful death. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing their duty terminated when Nicholas, and the assailants left the bar separately and peaceably, and did not extend to the subsequent fight a block away and approximately an hour later. The trial court concluded defendants owed no duty to Nicholas because the fatal altercation occurred outside defendants’ premises and granted the motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs timely appealed.

On Appeal, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District stated:

[F]or plaintiffs to prevail, we must find a duty arising from the bar/patron special relationship… To evaluate this question, we apply the factors identified by the Supreme Court in Rowland v. Christian, supra, 69 Cal.2d 108. The factors are: “the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.” (Id. at p. 113.)

Here, as plaintiffs point out, the harm they suffered was at least arguably foreseeable by defendants. Defendants knew Nicholas had been attacked by the assailants in the bar, and it was foreseeable that further fighting and injuries would happen later outside the bar if the assailants encountered Nicholas again. And it was foreseeable that the assailants would encounter Nicholas again, as all parties left the bar at approximately the same time.

The second factor weighs in favor of finding a duty. Nicholas was killed by the assailants; the harm he suffered is a certainty.

The third factor, by contrast, weighs against finding a duty. Defendants’ conduct is quite significantly removed from Nicholas’s death by physical distance, time, and the tenuous logic of the causal connection plaintiffs draw between defendants’ conduct and Nicholas’s death. Plaintiffs argue defendants should have called the police, but it is not at all clear that this would have made any difference in the ultimate outcome.

The fourth factor, moral blameworthiness of the conduct, also weighs against finding a duty. Plaintiffs point out that defendants failed to comply with their safety plan, which specified that police should be called under these circumstances. However, we do not ordinarily define either moral blame or a legal duty by reference to defendants’ own internal policy. The lack of a call to 911 when the parties had been separated and had peaceably gone their separate ways is not the sort of conduct to which moral blame ordinarily attaches. One wonders what plaintiffs would have expected defendants to report to the police dispatcher in this instance.

The fifth factor, the policy of preventing future harm, weighs only weakly in favor of finding a duty. Calling the police after the parties left the bar would likely not have prevented Nicholas’s subsequent death. More broadly, calling the police after every bar fight might marginally reduce the frequency and severity of injuries resulting from subsequent altercations, but it seems unlikely to eliminate them. The police cannot and will not arrest or indefinitely detain every person involved in a bar fight, and certainly will not follow participants in bar fights around, in hopes of preventing a future fight.

The sixth factor, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, weighs substantially against imposing a duty. If every bar is required to call the police for every altercation taking place on their premises, on pain of liability attaching for subsequent fights happening much later, away from the premises they own or control, police resources would be stretched thin and the ability of the police to respond to other calls would suffer. Many, perhaps even most, of these calls will be unnecessary. By the time the police arrive, most of these situations will have been calmed by bar security, with the parties either eager to leave or having already left.

The seventh factor, the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance, weighs weakly in favor of finding a duty. Bars are already insured against many of the risks inherent in their operation. However, imposing a duty as plaintiffs advocate would necessarily entail a significant expansion of the potential scope of a bar’s liability, and could therefore significantly increase the price of insurance.

Glynn v. Orange Circle Lounge Inc., 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 756, *5-9

Ultimately, after weighing these factors the Court upheld the trial court, holding:

We conclude the balance of these factors weighs against imposing a duty under these circumstances. The foreseeable nature of Nicholas’s death, the certainty he suffered an injury, the minimal prevention of future harm, and the existence of insurance are not sufficient to outweigh the tenuous nature of the connection between defendants’ conduct and Nicholas’s death, the absence of moral blame attaching to defendants’ conduct, and the substantial burden that imposition of a duty would impose on not only defendants but the community at large through greatly expanded utilization of law enforcement resources.

…A bar’s duty arising out of its special relationship with its patrons extends to protecting patrons from “imminent or ‘ongoing’ criminal conduct,” but not further. (citation) When patrons safely and peaceably leave the bar, as Nicholas, J.D., and the assailants did, the bar’s special relationship with them terminates, and the duty it owes to them ends.

Glynn v. Orange Circle Lounge Inc., 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 756, *9-10

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of an altercation at a bar or other establishment, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Heiting & Irwin (951) 682-6400 or visit us online at .

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