Restaurants, Bars, & their Duties to Protect their Guests

Brownstein Law Group regularly represents people injured by third parties while visiting a restaurant or bar. The issue is whether not the business took appropriate measures to protect their guests. This obligation typically arises as a result of a "special relationship" between the restaurant/bar and its paying guests. And the extent of the obligations imposed on the restaurant, bar, or other establishment depends on the specific facts of each case.  Below is a discussion of the applicable principles.

“As a rule, one has no duty to come to the aid of another. A person who has not created a peril is not liable in tort merely for failure to take affirmative action to assist or protect another unless there is some [special] relationship between them which gives rise to a duty to act.” (Carlsen v. Koivumaki (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 879, 893, citing Williams v. State of California (1983) 34 Cal.3d 18, 23.) The court in Carlsen described an important exception to the general rule above – special relationships.

“Typically, in a special relationship, the plaintiff is particularly vulnerable and dependent upon the defendant who, correspondingly, has some control over the plaintiff's welfare.  A defendant who is found to have a ‘special relationship' with another may owe an affirmative duty to protect the other person from foreseeable harm, or to come to the aid of another in the face of ongoing harm or medical emergency.” (Carlsen v. Koivumaki (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 879, 893; see also, CACI No. 400, Sources of Authority.)

In Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill (2005) 36 Cal.4th 224, the duties of a bar and restaurant were outlined.  There, a husband and wife were patrons at a bar when another male customer stared in a menacing way at the couple.  The husband became uncomfortable and decided to leave.  His wife told the bar that “there was going to be a fight.” The bar's security saw the behavior, yet the bar did nothing and then, as feared, there was an assault.

The court held that the bar had a duty to exercise reasonable care, further recognizing that “[s]uch measures may include telephoning the police or 911 for assistance.” The court held that a “special relationship” existed between the bar owners and their patrons such that a proprietor who serves intoxicating drinks to customers for consumption on the premises must “exercise[e] reasonable care to protect his patrons from injury at the hands of fellow guests.”

“Even when proprietors . . . have no duty . . . to provide a security guard or undertake other similarly burdensome preventative measures, the proprietor is not necessarily insulated from liability under the special relationship doctrine.  A proprietor that has no duty . . . to hire a security guard or to undertake other similarly burdensome preventative measures still owes a duty of due care to a patron or invitee by virtue of the special relationship, and there are circumstances (apart from the failure to provide a security guard or undertake other similarly burdensome preventative measures) that may give rise to liability based upon the proprietor's special relationship.” (Delgado, supra, 36 Cal.4th at pp. 240-241.)

The court held that the bar owner owes such a duty under certain conditions such as: 1) allowing a person on the premises who has a known propensity for fighting; 2) allowing a person to remain on the premises whose conduct had become obstreperous and aggressive to such a degree the management knew or ought to have known he endangered others; 3) having been warned of danger from an obstreperous patron, failing to take suitable measures for the protection of others; 4) failing to stop a fight as soon as possible after it starts; 5) failing to provide a staff adequate to police the premises; and 6) tolerating disorderly conditions.

The California Supreme Court described elaborated on the special relationship doctrine:

It long has been recognized that restaurant proprietors have a special-relationship-based duty to undertake relatively simple measures such as providing “assistance [to] their customers who become ill or need medical attention and that they are liable if they fail to act.” (Breaux v. Gino's, Inc. (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 379, 382; see generally Rest.2d Torts, § 314A.)  Similarly, a restaurant or bar proprietor also has a duty to warn patrons of known dangers (see Rest.2d Torts, § 344) and, in circumstances in which a warning alone is insufficient, has a duty to take other reasonable and appropriate measures to protect patrons or invitees from imminent or “ongoing” criminal conduct. (Kentucky Fried Chicken, supra, 14 Cal.4th 814, 823.) Such measures may include telephoning the police or 911 for assistance (e.g., Johnson v. Fontana (La.Ct.App.1997) 610 So.2d 1119, 1121-1122 [duty of bar proprietor]), or protecting patrons or invitees from an imminent and known peril lurking in a parking lot by providing an escort by existing security personnel to a car in that parking lot.  (Delgado at 241.)

If you have been injured at a restaurant, bar, or other public business, please contact Brownstein Law Group immediately for a free consultation.


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