Is a bartender legally obligated to call the police if there's a fight?

by Rhonda
(Ashland, WI)

During our pool league at a bar, a fight was started by people who are not from our area. It was two men and a female. The two men where throwing racial slurs around and then punched one of the females from a visiting pool team. The fight lasted approximately an hour and was all over the property, inside and out.

Throughout the entire incident, the bartender/owner never called the police. Doesn't the bartender/owner have a legal obligation to call the police? If not, would the owner be liable for injuries resulting from the fight? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Is a bartender legally obligated to call the police if there's a fight?":

Rhonda (Ashland, WI):

The bartender is (was) under no legal obligation to call the police, unless he or she believed someone was going to be placed in imminent fear of bodily injury or death as a result of a felonious assault. From the facts you present, that doesn't seem to have been the case. The actions of those fighting don't appear to rise to the level of felony assault.

Racial slurs, while reprehensible, do not constitute sufficient grounds for a bartender, or any other person to be under a legal obligation to call the police.

In that regard, there would be no liability attaching to the bar owner. Instead, liability would attach to those who instigated or participated in the fight, other than those persons who were rightfully defending themselves.

Whether the bar owner would be liable for injuries sustained by patrons would depend on whether or not the patrons were innocent bystanders or participants.

The bar owner has a legal duty of care, often referred to as the concept of "premises liability," to patrons who frequent the bar. That duty is to do everything reasonably possible to keep the premises safe for patrons and others who are legally upon the property.

That legal duty is conditional, meaning the bar owner would likely not be liable for injuries sustained by those who freely participated in the fight.

That too, is conditional. While the bar owner would likely not be liable for injuries sustained by participants in a fight, the bar owner might be liable if one or more of the participants were only defending themselves and did not take action to initiate the fight.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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