Owner liability for violent customer?

by Diana
(Brooklyn, NY)

I am a female bartender and despite having a bouncer, there have been numerous fights recently in the bar I tend bar in, but not on my shift.

According to 2 other bartenders there, at least three (but not all) of the fights have involved the same customer and his friends. One resulted in another female bartender receiving a black eye, and the female manager beaten up outside the bar. The following day, I was asked to work in place of the injured bartender.

I couldn't do it, but did call and ask the person I would be covering for why they needed my help. I was then told that the management wanted someone else to cover the shift "in case the guy came back."

They had no intention of telling me before I said I was unable to work, therefore potentially putting me in danger by not having knowledge of the previous altercation.

On my shift the following week, I asked why I was not informed of the fight BEFORE being asked to work, and who the customer was so I could head off trouble by not serving the individual. I was told that I didn't need to know the reason beforehand, and since the guy was now "banned" it didn't matter.

There is no picture posted of this individual and I still don't know him by face nor is there a bouncer on my shift to deal with issues.

I believe that the owners and manager are creating an unsafe working condition for employees by repeatedly allowing that customer to return despite violent incidents, not disclosing to all staff who that customer is to enforce the supposed ban, not having an adequate, well trained bouncer, and not having an official policy as to what to do when a violent incident breaks out.

I also think the manager would have deliberately put me at risk by not informing me of the potential for problems when I was asked to cover the injured bartender's shift.

My questions are: Does the injured bartender have a case? Does the lack of any info or safeguards constitute premises liability or unsafe working conditions should that person come back and injury me or anyone else? Any information and perspective you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Owner liability for violent customer?":

Diana (Brooklyn, NY):

Form the facts you present, it appears the injured bartender has the basis of a workers' compensation claim. She also has sufficient legal grounds to have the individual who injured her investigated by the police for assault. This presumes the individual was the one who injured the bartender.

As to you, at this point you have thankfully not been injured. As a result, you do not have the basis of a workers' comp claim against your employer.

While your employer certainly has a legal duty to make the premises safe, the law also requires a person with knowledge of potential danger to avoid it. This means if your are confident you will soon be injured if you continue working at the bar, then you have a legal duty not to place yourself in harm's way. From the facts you present, staying at the bar will likely place you in harm’s way.

If you were injured as a result of a fight at the bar, you would be in the same position as the injured bartender before you. You would be entitled to workers' compensation benefits and would have the basis if a viable criminal complaint against the patron for assault.

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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