In a recent case, a woman sued a Florida cafe to recover compensation for personal injuries she suffered when she was attacked inside a popular restaurant and bar near the beach. On the night she was attacked, she had come to the restaurant to give her roommate (a bartender) a ride.
A family of Irish tourists had been drinking heavily. They were rowdy. A manager, the woman’s friend, and her roommate were also present. Before the fight the woman’s friend exchanged words with the tourists. The manager left the roommate to manage the altercation. She was shoved. The woman and her friend also started fighting. She was badly beaten by the time the police got there.
The tourists were arrested, but jumped bail and left the country. The woman sued the restaurant and bar on the grounds that it had notice that its patrons had a tendency to become violent and should have had better security.
There had been 60 prior similar incidents for four years before the attack. However, the restaurant brought a motion in limine to prevent the woman from introducing those incidents into evidence. The restaurant argued that the incidents weren’t admissible because they weren’t similar crimes, nor likely to prove the attack on the woman was foreseeable. The woman argued that the incidents were relevant to foreseeability and whether the restaurant had installed proper safety measures. She had an expert that would likely testify that, based on the volume of violent incidents, the restaurant did not take sufficient protective measures against the attack.
Without citing to any case law, the court ruled that disclosure of only 12 of them — the ones involving personal or property damage — would be admissible at trial. The cafe defended on the grounds that it was a family restaurant and, therefore, the attack on the woman was unforeseeable. The jury found for the cafe.
The woman appealed on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion in its motion in limine ruling. The appellate court explained that three Florida Supreme Court cases have dealt with situations in which the plaintiff sued a bar for injuries as a result of being attacked at the bar. Foreseeability in those cases could be established by showing the proprietor knew or should have known it was likely the disorderly conduct by a third party would endanger other patrons. Actual knowledge of a particular person’ inclination to violence, or knowledge that third parties had been violent at the bar in the past were relevant.
The appellate court also pointed out that prior case law prohibited rulings that limited admissibility solely to similar criminal activity, just the kind of ruling that the judge had engaged in here.
The appellate court explained that the effect of the ruling was to prevent the woman from introducing a huge number of incidents relevant to foreseeability, including multiple instances in which patrons had harassed employees, gotten kicked out for fighting, carried knives, or being threatening.
The lower court’s ruling prevented the woman’s expert witness from offering an opinion based on those incidents. The jury was the ultimate decision-maker on the question of foreseeability and didn’t get all relevant and available evidence. The appellate court sent the case back to the lower court to consider whether each incident should or should not be admitted based on whether it put the restaurant on notice that an attack could occur.
If you are seriously hurt or a loved one is killed due to the negligence of a business, contact the knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
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