A state supreme court recently ruled a bar patron liable for $1.5 million in damages incurred by a former friend who suffered serious injuries in a bar fight – despite the fact that the defendant never threw a punch.
On the surface, this may seem unfair. But Manhattan personal injury lawyers know that as the facts of Dorsey v. Reider are revealed, it becomes clear the defendant breached a basic duty of care he owed to the plaintiff, which was a proximate cause of his permanent, debilitating injuries. It was for this reason that the Florida Supreme Court quashed a ruling by an appellate court that had vacated the jury’s decision. Ultimately, the defendant’s duty of care extended to third-party misconduct.
The case illustrates how in the event of a serious injury, an experienced lawyer can help you look beyond the obvious theories of negligence to maximize your potential opportunities for compensation.
According to the case records, it started back in 2007 in Miami-Dade County, when the plaintiff went to a bar with a friend and an acquaintance. The evening started out normally enough, though all three become increasingly intoxicated as the night wore on. At some point, the friend/defendant became “boisterous.” Some even described him as “belligerent.” He started loudly threatening to fight other patrons.
After several minutes, the plaintiff called the defendant a name, told him he was out of line and walked out of the bar. The defendant and the acquaintance followed him outside, where they cornered the plaintiff in between two vehicles, one of which happened to belong to the defendant. Blocking his escape, a verbal confrontation carried on for several minutes.
Then, the acquaintance opened the door of the defendant’s truck, pulled out a tomahawk and attacked the plaintiff, causing serious injuries. Then the defendant and the acquaintance fled.
The plaintiff suffered serious head trauma and permanent nerve damage, including blurred vision. The attacker was later arrested and convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
The plaintiff sued the defendant, his former friend. A jury awarded him $1.5 million.
On appeal, however, the district appellate court held that even though the defendant had blocked the plaintiff’s escape, therefore enabling the attack, there was no indication that he planned it ahead of time or had any idea the acquaintance would act as he did.
In reviewing that decision, the state supreme court found that didn’t matter. Neither advance knowledge or collusion were tests for determining duty of care under the circumstances.
Rather, the defendant had a duty of care stemmed from the fact that his actions created a foreseeable potential for risk of harm to another. That means regardless of the defendant’s intentions, his actions created a situation where the plaintiff was placed at risk for harm and the defendant knew or should have known that his actions posed this risk and had a duty to refrain from those actions. He could have chosen to merely step aside. He didn’t. This may not have been enough to charge him criminally, but it provided ample grounds for civil liability.
Other potential claims that might arise in a case like this could be premise liability or negligence for inadequate security.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Dorsey v. Reider, March 27, 2014, Florida Supreme Court
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Timely, Proper Filing of Medical Malpractice Claim is Critical, Jan. 28, 2014, Manhattan Personal Injury Lawyer Blog