Accidents in a Public Place: Nightclub/bar injury or security claims*

The liability of a bar or nightclub for injuries caused in trip, slip and fall type accidents  is determined under general Occupiers Liability legislation. 

However, where a patron suffers injuries at the hands of employees or contractual agents who  are acting in a security role for the bar or nightclub, generally a cause of action for damages would arise against:-

  1. The bar/nightclub and/or
  2. The security firm who employs the contractual agents.

Assaults by Nightclub Security

In Ireland, bars and nightclubs are popular venues for social interaction between people. Given how busy bars and nightclubs are, they often employ security to regulate the patrons on the premises. These security personnel are either employed by the bar or nightclub directly  or they may be employed by a security firm retained by the bar or nightclub, for example, for bigger events or at particularly busy times of year.

In most cases, these security personal, or “bouncers” as they are generally known, are treated as ordinary citizens. In most situations, a bouncer is prohibited from making physical contact with a patron. Where a patron is becoming unruly, the bouncer must first verbally ask that person to leave the premises. If the person refuses, the bar or nightclub should contact the Gardaí.

As a general rule, a bouncer should only use physical force in self-defence or in the defence of other patrons, for example, if a fight or altercation were to break out in the venue. Just like any other person, the bouncer may defend and protect themselves and other persons from physical harm.

Negligent Security

Where a bouncer uses force on a patron outside of the aforementioned circumstances, the bouncer can be found liable for assault. Where the patron suffers personal injuries as a result of that assault, the bouncer, and indeed the bar or nightclub that employ them, may facing a civil action for compensation.

In such circumstances, an obvious cause of action would arise against the bouncer who inflicted the injuries. However, often a bouncer may not be financially able to compensate the injured person. Generally, an injured patron would have a cause of action against the bar or nightclub venue or against the security firm that employed the bouncer, under vicarious liability.  In Irish common law, employers are vicariously liable for the acts (or omissions) of their employees or contractual agents which occur during the course of their employment.

The bar or nightclub may be liable in negligence for employing an unlicensed security person or where it can be shown that the security employee in question did not have adequate training and/or that the training the employee received was not adhered to.  Negligence would also arise where a bar or nightclub ran an event where it did not employ enough security personnel under the circumstances, and some form of preventable harm occurred.

Most corporate entities that own bars and nightclubs would have insurance policies to cover injuries caused to patrons while on their premises or when attempting to gain access to the premises.

Case Example: Krystle Nightclub assault

In 2018 two personal injuries cases came before Dublin Circuit Court. They involved two brothers who were assaulted by security staff while queuing to go into Krystle Nightclub, Dublin, in 2015. The claims were taken against the nightclub and the security firm, Senture Security Limited, that employed the security workers. No evidence was put forward of any actions by the victims that provoked the attacks. The case was not defended.

The younger brother, James, suffered a broken nose and suspected concussion in the assault and was taken to St James’s Hospital for medical treatment. On hearing the medical evidence put forward at the hearing of the case, Judge Sarah Berkeley awarded him damages of just under €21,000 jointly and severally against both defendants.

The older brother, Conor, suffered more serious injuries in the assault and was caused to lose consciousness. He also received hospital treatment following the incident. While this case was listed for hearing the case was finalised by way of settlement in the amount of €31,000. In both cases the claimants received an order for costs against the defendants.

Evidential proofs required

Like any civil case, it must be proved,  on the balance of probabilities, that unreasonable force was used by a security employee that amounted to an assault, and this must be shown to have caused the personal injuries of the victim.

In terms of proofs, any CCTV footage, mobile phone video footage or witness accounts of any such assault incident would be vitally important in showing that the injuries were negligently inflicted. It is important to act quickly following an incident to take up any CCTV footage, be it from the venue itself or from neighbouring venues, that may show the incident taking place.

It is also important to identify the security person or personnel in question. Bouncers are required to display ID badges and proof of their registration with the Private Security Authority (PSA).

Other important information for the legal representatives of claimants to request include training records for the security personnel, the security plan of the venue and any incident reports or logs relating to the incident.

Intoxication and Claimant Behaviour

Where alcohol is involved, a claimant may not have an exact recollection as to what led to an incident involving an alleged assault. Even where a patron is removed justifiably and in an appropriate manner by security, there can often be a sense of injustice on the patron’s part. Invariably, the patron and the security person’s version of events will often differ. Furthermore, if CCTV footage or witness testimony is produced in evidence which shows that the claimant was intoxicated, aggressive and abusive at the time of the incident, it may be very damaging to any claim for assault and may even cause the claim to fail.

In a 2017 Dublin Circuit Court personal injuries case, a claimant was ejected from a work party by security from Dicey’s Garden nightclub in Dublin. The claimant said he was assaulted by security staff when enquiring as to why a colleague had been ejected from the nightclub and he was caused to suffer injuries to his head. The case was dismissed by Judge Raymond Groarke.

The evidence showed that the claimant had been performing back and front flips on the dance floor and security staff had no option but to approach him and warn him about his behaviour. During this conversation the claimant attempted to head-butt one of the two bouncers speaking to him and CCTV footage of this was produced to the court.

In dismissing the claimant’s case and awarding costs against him, Judge Groarke noted that  the claimant had probably erred on the side of caution when stating that he had drank “eight pints” on the night of the incident with the security staff. In the court’s view, the security staff were entitled to eject him due to his actions. Furthermore, in terms of the manner in which he had been ejected, no evidence of assault or negligence had been proven on the part of the security staff and the degree of force used was deemed to be reasonable by the Judge.

Conclusion

The owners of bars and nightclubs have a duty of care to patrons to provide a safe place to congregate and socialise. While these owners do retain a right to remove patrons from their establishment, for example, if they are too drunk or too rowdy, then such removal should be done in a way that does not involve excessive force. Similarly, these establishments should have a sufficient number of staff, who are trained appropriately, and there should be adequate processes for staff to follow in the running of the nightclub or bar.

Where the necessary standards are not adhered to by owners of bars and nightclubs and this results in injuries to patrons, the injured party may have a cause of action for damages.

 

 

*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement

Ed Kelly, Solicitor
Ed Kelly, Solicitor
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