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Bar not liable for patron’s injuries outside the building

Where plaintiff’s decedent was ejected from defendant bar and beaten outside of the building, the bar is not liable for the injuries.

Background

According to the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint, plaintiff’s decedent was a patron of a bar called The Edge. The Edge employed Hannan, a college football player who, although he was not 21 years old, was served alcohol on the day of the incident underlying the complaint.

Hannan was involved in “several heated incidents” with other patrons, including one who was a member of the decedent’s group. The decedent’s group was ejected. The decedent tried to go back in to get his credit card but was told to stay outside while his bill was processed.

The complaint further alleges that Hannan left The Edge with other employees. Solo, who managed The Edge, was at the doorway when Hannan assaulted members of the decedent’s group, allegedly encouraged by other employees. The decedent “approached the assault.” Solo pushed him to the ground and Hannan “brutally battered plaintiff’s decedent.” Neither Solo nor other employees tried to intervene.

The complaint alleges that The Edge and Solo negligently allowed Hannan to be served alcohol and failed to prevent his assault of plaintiff’s decedent. Plaintiff has not alleged that Solo assaulted the decedent by pushing him, and had not pleaded respondeat superior, an assumed duty, or that The Edge occupied the property where Hannan assault the decedent.

Demurrer

The defendants have demurred on two grounds. First, they assert that a bar owner is not liable for torts committed by underage patrons to whom alcohol has been sold because the sale is not the proximate cause of the patrons’ acts, Robinson v. Matt Mary Moran, Inc., 259 Va. 412 (2000). The demurrer is sustained as to the allegations of serving alcohol to Hannan.

The second ground is defendants’ assertion that an occupier of land has no duty to prevent or break up an off-premises fight.

In general, an occupier of land has no duty to warn or protect someone on the property from third-party criminal acts. A duty arises if the occupier knows an assault is occurring or is about to occur, on the premises, Wright v. Webb, 234 Va. 527 (1987). Every case the court has reviewed only imposes a duty for acts on the premises.

“If the duty of an occupier of land to business invitees is to be extended to invitees who have left or been expelled from the occupier’s premises, that extension is for the Supreme Court of Virginia, not this court.”

The demurrer is sustained with leave to amend.

Applegate v. ALMG, Case No. CL-19-5188. Feb. 25, 2020; Norfolk Cir. Ct. (Martin). Allen W. Beasley, Mark C. Nanavati for the parties. VLW 020-8-016, 5 pp.

VLW 020-8-016

Virginia Lawyers Weekly