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A fight breaks out in a Denny’s. Is the restaurant liable? p4

We are finishing up our discussion of a premises liability lawsuit from Western New York. In our last few posts, we have discussed the duty a business owes to different types of visitors. In this case, the restaurant, Denny’s, owed the plaintiff, an invitee, a duty of reasonable care.

Generally, a premises liability case is about something that the property owner did or did not do that resulted in harm to the plaintiff. This case is unusual because the plaintiff did not fall on a wet floor or have a platter of food dropped in her lap. She was assaulted by other customers.

The plaintiff was at the restaurant when a group of customers began to get loud. She asked the staff to ask the group to quiet down. The staff did not, so she went over to them on her own. They responded by assaulting her. (They were later charged with and convicted of assault.)

The trial court granted the restaurant’s motion for summary judgment. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and remanded the case.

The court pointed out that, like other businesses, Denny’s has a duty to protect customers from foreseeable criminal acts of third parties — that is, the restaurant must take appropriate steps to protect customers from another customer’s reasonably predictable violent act. As for the assault being the plaintiff’s fault, the court said that when Denny’s failure to talk to the disruptive customers when the plaintiff asked the staff should have known that the plaintiff would go over on her own.

Usually cases like this require the direct knowledge of the defendant — here, Denny’s — of the threat. For instance, an employer knows that an employee’s boyfriend is stalking her but lets the boyfriend enter the offices anyway. This case is unusual because the restaurant knew that the elements leading up to violence were present, that violence could happen without knowing, for example, that this group of customers had a history of violent acts.

The lesson, then, is that even if a business has no way to control an outsider’s violent tendencies, the business cannot ignore the danger.

Do you agree with the court’s reasoning?

Source: Huffington Post, “When Is a Business Liable for Outsider Violence on Its Premises?” Brad Reid, Sept. 13, 2013

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