Bar Fight Personal Injury Case Dismissal Affirmed

In Covelli v. Silver Fist, Ltd., 2018 NY Slip Op 08914 (App. Div. 2d Dept. Dec. 26, 2018), the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s personal injury case. In sum, plaintiff’s decedent – the plaintiff here is the estate of the deceased – died from injuries sustained as a result of an altercation with another bar patron outside the bar in question (Shooters Tiki BAr & Grill). The plaintiff sued the bar.

This case is instructive on the critical concept/issue of “duty” in a tort case, particularly in the context of a factual scenario where, as here, a landowner/business owner is sued for negligence when one of its patrons injures another.

Here is a summary of the relevant law:

Landowners in general have a duty to act in a reasonable manner to prevent harm to those on their property (see Basso v Miller, 40 NY2d 233, 241). In particular, they have a duty to control the conduct of third persons on their premises when they have the opportunity to control such persons and are reasonably aware of the need for such control (see D’Amico v Christie, 71 NY2d 76, 85). Under this rationale, courts have recognized that a landowner may have responsibility for injuries caused by an intoxicated guest (see id. at 85). However, it is “uniformly acknowledged that liability may be imposed only for injuries that occurred on defendant’s property, or in an area under defendant’s control, where defendant had the opportunity to supervise the intoxicated guest” (id.; see Martino v Stolzman, 18 NY3d 905, 908; Sheehy v Big Flats Community Day, 73 NY2d 629, 636; O’Gara v Alacci, 67 AD3d 54, 57; Reuter v Flobo Enters., 120 AD2d 722, 723). Moreover, a landowner is not an insurer of a visitor’s safety, and has no duty to protect visitors against unforeseeable and unexpected assaults[.]

Applying the law, the court concluded that defendant was entitled to summary judgment, noting that “the bar defendants submitted evidence demonstrating that the altercation was a sudden and unforeseeable event, which occurred on a public roadway, outside of their premises and control[.]”