Every state has an area of law known as premises liability. Under this type of law, property owners are required to maintain a certain standard of care to reduce the risk of visitors to their property getting hurt.
When you are injured on another person or business’s premises, the owner may be liable for your injuries—but only if you can show they breached their standard of care. In other words, you have to prove the owner was negligent.
When you are at a restaurant, the owner owes you a high duty of care. The premises and the food should be safe. You may face a risk of injury from other patrons. Whether or not the restaurant is responsible for those injuries depends on several factors.
Restaurant Owners’ Liability
Property owners throughout the country are required to maintain reasonably safe premises for their customers, clients, patrons, or social guests. They should keep their property in good repair and safe, which includes providing adequate security from crimes that occur in the neighborhood.
Many states in the U.S. require property owners to maintain a reasonable standard of care toward all types of guests, while other states require property owners to provide different standards to invitees or licensees.
An invitee is someone invited on to another party’s property for a mutually beneficial reason, such as doing business. A restaurant patron is an invitee. A licensee is someone who enters another party’s land for their own benefit, such as a social guest.
Many states require owners to provide invitees with the highest duty of care. Owners can be held responsible for hazards and dangers on the property they knew or should have known about.
When you are injured in a restaurant, get to know your state’s law. You can start by reviewing the 50-State Compendium on Premises Liability published by Wells, Anderson & Race, LLC.
Restaurant Owners’ Liability for Assault
A restaurant owner may or may not be liable if you were assaulted by another person in their business. It depends on several factors, including whether the assault was foreseeable, the security measures the owner had in place, and your own behavior. Generally, owners need to offer adequate security against foreseeable crimes on their property.
“Restaurants are responsible for keeping properties safe and can be held responsible for injuries in the building as well as in the parking lot,” said Mr. Jared Staver, founding partner at Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. “While the most common restaurant injuries are slip and falls, a restaurant can also be held liable for a patron being assaulted in certain situations. These usually stem from restaurant owners being negligent in their security practices.”
Can You Prove an Assault Was Foreseeable?
Whether or not a crime was foreseeable can influence whether the restaurant owner’s security preparations and conduct at the time were appropriate or lacking.
“One could argue that past incidents made the hazard in their restaurant foreseeable, and by ignoring it, they were negligent in their duty to provide you a safe place to eat or drink,” said Mr. Staver. “If a bar had a reputation for drunken fights or violence in the parking lot, and they failed to hire additional security, install better lighting, or limit over-serving their guests, they could definitely be held liable if someone is hurt.”
But whether or not an assault was foreseeable is not always about past incidents. It matters what happened in the time immediately leading up to the assault that caused you harm.
Consider a number of questions: Did the other patron threaten you? Was a manager or member of the staff made aware of the threats? Was the other patron asked to leave or ignored?
A restaurant may be liable for failing to act to prevent an assault when there were warning signs it might occur.
Did You Contribute to the Incident?
Your conduct also is relevant. If you were aware there was a controversy brewing and chose to stay, then you may be responsible for your own injuries.
“A customer’s own behavior will also be a factor since the law considers that you should also act with reasonable care within an establishment,” said Mr. Staver. “For example, if you were warned of the potential hazard and chose to engage in a bar brawl, then you probably can’t hold the restaurant owner liable if you’re hurt as a result.”
What to Do if You Are Assaulted by Another Restaurant Customer
If you were assaulted and harmed by another person at a restaurant, you should take certain steps:
- Call the police to file a report.
- Get the name of the person responsible for the assault.
- Inform the manager of the assault, if they are not already aware.
- Ask for the manager’s name and contact information.
- Ask for the restaurant’s insurance policy information.
- Get medical help for your injuries.
- Talk with a premises liability attorney about whether the restaurant owner may be responsible.
You may not have a legal claim. However, if you do, these steps will help you get started.