From Champagne to Scalp Staples: Lessons in Bar Fight Liability

Posted June 28, 2012 in Personal Injury by

What’s less surprising than two famous musicians flinging insults at each other and then brawling over an (absent) woman in a swank nightclub in New York City? Let’s see…maybe the actual presence of beautiful models and one’s pronouncement of her intent to sue everyone in sight after she was injured in the melee?

Like bees to honey, the entourages of famous people are drawn to the good life – free booze, fun times, exclusive parties, and no doubt the sparkling conversation. But it’s all fun and games, as the saying goes, until someone gets hurt.

Even if your idea of a good time is decidedly more low-key – perhaps you enjoy sitting at the corner table of your neighborhood bar on a date, or you like to watch football games at the local sports bar – it’s good to know your options if you are ever hurt in a fight that takes place in a bar.

 

‘I Got So Much Trouble on My Mind’

The recent incident in a New York nightclub involved a fight between hip-hop artist Drake and rapper Chris Brown that was allegedly sparked by a note about Brown’s former girlfriend, recording artist Rihanna, passed from Drake to Brown as champagne bottles also circulated. Drake reportedly had a relationship with Rihanna after she and Brown broke up; Brown is currently on supervised probation in California for beating her up.

But Brown was more interested in model Ingrid Gutierrez and her friends on June 14; the women were seated with Brown and his entourage at W.i.P. in SoHo when the confrontation began. Gutierrez says the next thing she knew, she was hit on the head with a flying bottle of bubbly. Her injury required staples in her scalp, and according to her lawyer, she’s planning to sue everyone in sight.

The success of such a case depends on several factors, including whether Gutierrez herself was to blame for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s likely to be an uphill battle, since famous rap artists usually have a flock of good lawyers on speed-dial. (After all, the line in Public Enemy’s famous rap after “I got so much trouble on my mind” is “Refuse to lose!”)

 

Someone’s Gonna Pay…Right?

Eric Turkewitz

Gutierrez likely has several options in her quest to make someone pay. First, she could sue W.i.P. and its owners for negligence. “The owner of a bar has a duty to use reasonable care to protect patrons from attack by third parties,” notes personal injury lawyer Eric Turkewitz of the Turkewitz Law Firm in Manhattan. “Whether reasonable care was used in this case will depend, in part, on how much notice the bar had that an altercation was going on.”  

The success of such a case would hinge in part on whether Gutierrez was injured seconds after the explosion of violence or ten minutes later: did the bar owners/managers watch the fight go down, or did they immediately try to stop it? “The conduct of the bar in providing security would also be an issue,” Turkewitz adds.

Then there’s the theory that the bar is liable for violation of dram shop laws, which prohibit bars from serving visibly intoxicated patrons, says Turkewitz. Gutierrez’s success on this theory would again depend on the facts, including how drunk Brown, Drake, and their buddies were and what the bartenders saw and knew.

Finally, there’s the true pot of gold: “She could, of course, sue the people that were fighting,” Turkewitz says.

 

No ‘Model’ Behavior

But whether she goes for the bar or the wealthy recording artists, this model’s winnings in court will likely depend on another variable: her own behavior. As any lawyer (except perhaps Gutierrez’s, who also spoke to the New York Post about the case) can tell you, talking to the media if you’re involved, or thinking of becoming involved, in a lawsuit is usually a bad idea. By speaking out about the incident, Gutierrez might have damaged her case.

“If, for example, she says that she was standing around watching famous people brawl, then the issue of comparative negligence comes into play for her willingness to stand in a place of danger,” says Turkewitz. Comparative negligence as a defense can limit or even eliminate a plaintiff’s case in many jurisdictions, including New York. The defendants’ success with that theory would, again, have to be determined based on the facts about what happened at the bar.

So if you’re ever injured in a bar, take a page out of Gutierrez’s book and get a lawyer. But that’s where her role model behavior should end: “For the vast majority of people, the answer is to keep your mouth closed,” Turkewitz warns. “Quotes in papers give information to lawyers.”

If you have been injured in a bar fight, contact a personal injury lawyer on Lawyers.com to find out about your legal options, including whether you can or should sue the bar or its patrons.

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