Who pays when you’re hurt in a bar or nightclub? Here’s what you need to know about getting compensation for your injuries.
Nightlife industry experts report more than 62,000 bars and nightclubs serving an estimated 19 million people each year.
With food and drink sales reaching $10 billion, it’s clear that American adults enjoy going out for drinks with friends and co-workers.¹
Accidents can happen to customers at any business. Bars and nightclubs are no exception.
The fact is, whenever alcoholic beverages are involved, the risk of injury rises dramatically.
Bar owners have a responsibility to customers. Whether you’re at a popular nightclub, a favorite sports bar, or the local neighborhood dive, you’re entitled to injury compensation. Here’s what you need to know about bar negligence and liability.
Common Bar and Nightclub Injuries
Every situation when a person is injured in a bar or club is unique, but many bar injuries arise from common situations where the owner may be responsible.
Bar fights can happen in the bar, restroom, or parking lot. You don’t have to be directly involved in a bar fight to be injured by fight participants, excessive force from bouncers or security guards, broken glass, or flying furniture.
Slip and fall accidents can result in broken bones, neck and back injuries, and concussions. Sloshed drinks, peanut shells on the floor, uneven flooring, and icy walkways are just some of the hazards that can harm customers when bar management fails to clean up messes and safely maintain the property.
Cuts and puncture wounds from broken glass, damaged furniture, or protruding nails and screws can injure unsuspecting patrons.
Food poisoning is a risk wherever food is served. That plate of nachos or raw oysters can make you deathly ill if they’re tainted from improper food storage or handling.
When Is the Bar Liable for Injuries?
Bar and nightclub owners have a legal duty of care, meaning obligation, to do everything reasonably possible to protect their patrons from foreseeable harm. When an owner fails in their duty, and a patron gets injured, the injured patron can file an insurance claim or lawsuit for compensation.
Foreseeable means a reasonable bar owner knows or should know when situations are likely to cause harm to customers.
Bar and nightclub owners are only as conscientious as their employees, and even the best employees can make mistakes.
When a bar employee does something wrong or fails to take action to ensure customer safety, the bar owner is negligent. When a customer is hurt because of the negligence, the bar owner becomes liable, meaning responsible, for the injured person’s damages.
That’s exactly why bar and nightclub owners carry liability insurance policies. These policies cover everything from intoxicated patrons who slug it out with other patrons, to slip and fall accidents on beer-soaked floors – and everything in between.
Understanding Dram Shop Laws
“Dram Shop” is an antiquated term for taverns, bars, nightclubs, or anywhere alcoholic beverages are served. The term Dram Shop is still used in legal and insurance jargon.
Back in the day, liquor was sold in small amounts calls drams. By today’s measurements, it would take eight drams of liquor to equal a shot.
Under dram shop laws, bar and club owners who serve alcoholic beverages to obviously intoxicated persons can be held liable for the property damage and injuries the intoxicated patron causes.
Serving alcohol to minors is illegal in all 50 states. Additionally, most states have dram shop laws that allow injured persons to seek compensation from the owner of the bar that served the at-fault person.
Dram shop laws are warnings to bar and club owners, making it clear that if they continue to serve alcohol to intoxicated patrons, they’ll become responsible for the patron’s actions, especially when those actions result in injuries to others.
Dram shop laws frequently come up in drunk driving lawsuits and can be used in other claims for injuries caused by an intoxicated person.
Here’s what you need to know if you or a loved one are victims of a Drunk Driving Accident.
To protect themselves from lawsuits, many bar owners have eliminated “Buy One, Get One Free,” “Ladies Drink Free Night,” and other celebrations of alcohol consumption. These actions help, but they can’t entirely protect bar and club owners from problem patrons.
Premises Liability Injury Claims
All business owners are required to provide a safe environment for customers. Bar and nightclub owners may be liable for customer injuries and property damage caused by:
- Broken or damaged furniture
- Slippery or uneven floors
- Faulty stairs, or lack of handrails
- Poor lighting
- Inadequate security
- Crowding beyond the legal capacity of the club
- Locked or blocked emergency exits
Do You Share Responsibility?
Although you have a right to compensation for injuries sustained in a bar or club, your compensation may be reduced or denied if you share some of the blame for the circumstances that caused your injuries.
Contributory Negligence rules affect personal injury claims in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. If the insurance company finds that you carry as little as one percent of the blame for your injuries, they will use a pure contributory negligence argument to deny your claim.
Comparative Negligence or modified comparative negligence is used in the majority of states. Under comparative fault rules, you have the right to pursue an injury claim even if you’re partially to blame for your injuries.
The amount of compensation you can get is reduced in proportion to your share of the blame. In modified comparative fault states, you may not be eligible to recover any compensation if you are equally to blame (called the 50% rule) or more to blame (called the 51% rule) for the circumstances of your injuries.
Don’t settle for less. If you don’t agree with the insurance company’s portioning of blame, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your options.
Example: How Contributory Fault Affects Compensation
Imagine you’re enjoying a few beers with friends at a local watering hole when suddenly another bar patron hauls off and slugs you, breaking your jaw. Gus, the slugger, was already unsteady on his feet and loud when you got to the bar, but the bartender kept serving him up until the time he decked you.
After you get the pins and wires out of your jaw, you make your injury demand to the bar’s insurance company for $30,000 to cover your medical bills, lost wages, and a modest amount for pain and suffering.
The insurance company investigation turned up witnesses who verified that the bartender continued to serve Gus, but who also testified that you were arguing with Gus about the sports team logo on his shirt from the time you arrived at the bar. Independent witnesses heard you call Gus a “fat stupid loser” just before he slugged you.
The insurance company accepted 60 percent of fault on behalf of the bar for serving Gus when he was clearly intoxicated. They assigned 40 percent of the blame to you for your own level of intoxication and belligerence to Gus.
The insurance company offered $18,000 to settle your injury claim, representing a 40 percent reduction to your $30,000 demand for your share of fault.
Evidence to Prove Your Claim
You don’t automatically get an insurance settlement just because you were injured in a fight, or you cut your head when you fell off a broken bar stool. The burden is on you to prove the bar or nightclub is liable for your damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.
In a bar or nightclub setting, your burden of proof includes showing:
- The bar or club owner had a duty of care to protect you from injury.
- The injury-accident was foreseeable.
- The owner or employee was negligent.
- The negligence caused your injury.
- You have verified injuries.
Evidence is the foundation of your injury claim. Begin collecting important evidence as soon as you’re injured.
Report the injury: Don’t wait to see how you feel. Immediately ask for the bar owner or manager. Tell them how you were injured. If you’ve been assaulted, ask them to call the police. Try to look for as many details as possible, like a description of the person who hit you, who saw it, and what time it happened.
Get the name and contact information for the bar owner, and the contact information for the bartender or manager who took your report. Ask for the bar’s insurance company information. If the bar owner isn’t available, leave a message asking for a return call.
Ask for medical assistance: If you suffered a serious injury, ask someone to call 911. Certainly, a broken jaw requires paramedics and a trip to the local emergency room. Emergency treatment records will link your injury to the bar.
Never refuse or delay medical treatment. If you don’t get treatment at the bar, see your doctor as soon as possible, or go to an emergency room or urgent care center. The longer you wait before a medical evaluation, the harder it will be to prove your injuries happened at the bar.
Get witness statements: Witnesses can make or break your injury claim. If you were injured falling from a broken chair, it helps to have the statement of a witness who saw what happened. Even better if you find a witness who says they reported the broken chair to management earlier in the evening.
Ask any potential witness for their name and contact information. If they’re willing, ask the person to write down what they saw and heard, and to sign and date their statement.
Take pictures and video: Photographs and video make great evidence. Make the most of your smartphone to acquire evidence in support of your injury claim. Don’t forget to turn on the date and time stamp function.
For example, if you suffer an injury from a nail sticking out of the wall, an audio recording of the waitress saying she repeatedly told the club owner “Someone is going to get hurt on that nail,” is very strong evidence. Be sure to get her name and contact information.
When You Need an Attorney
You probably won’t need an attorney for soft tissue injuries like cuts, bruises, sprained muscles, or other minor injuries. If you’ve fully recovered, you can negotiate your settlement directly with the insurance company.
Calculate your compensation by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, the value of ruined personal items, and your lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send your demand letter with copies of all your bills, receipts, and any other evidence you’ve collected.
Look like a pro with our sample Bar Injury Demand Letter.
You’ll need the help of a skilled personal injury attorney to pursue fair compensation for serious injuries or complicated claims.
Brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, internal bleeding, and other “hard” injuries are high-dollar claims.
Insurance companies are in business to make money, not pay large settlements to claimants like you. You can bet they will use every trick in the book to deny or reduce your claim.
An attorney will help you get fair compensation for:
- Assault and battery injuries
- Dram shop claims and lawsuits
- Severe physical or psychological injuries
- Wrongful death of a family member
There’s too much at stake to let the insurance company call the shots in high-dollar injury cases. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.
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Bar Injury Claim Questions & Answers
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