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If you are assaulted at a bar, can you also sue the bar as well as the person who assaulted you?

Des Moines, IA |

If you are assaulted inside a bar, can you sue the bar as well as the person who assaulted you?

I was having a friendly conversation with a bouncer @ a local strip bar. While having this conversation, I was assaulted by a different bouncer. The bouncer that I was having the conversation with, covered me up & informed the rest of the security team that I didn't do anything & was not a threat. I suffered a fractured nose & now i have on going head aches. Can the bar owner & the bouncer that assaulted me be held liable?

Attorney Answers 3


  1. Yes, if the bar overserved the patron, or provided inadequate supervision at the time of the assault.
    Be careful, when suing a bar, there are typically shortened statute of limitations.


  2. Well, yes you CAN sue the bar. But the real question is whether and to what extent you have a valid claim that will prevail.

    While you CAN sue the bar, the statutes and the case law in most states invoke many protections for liquor licensees. You must prove that they were on notice that the person that they served was intoxicated. This can be done either by direct testimony from witnesseses or by an expert.

    But, think about it. Who are the witnesses? Are there any stone cold sober people who were sitting there who can testify with accuracy as to the fact that the assaulter was exhibiting signs of intoxication when they were served a drink by the bar? Lacking direct testimony in this area, then you need expert testimony from a toxicologist or other person knowledgeable enough about blood alcohol to take the BAC when the assaulter was tested after the incident, and then through a process known as reverse interpolation, figure what the BAC would have been when the person was served their last drink AND whether it is more likely than not that with that BAC they would have demonstrated obvious signs of intoxication. That is what is required to demonstrate that the bar served the person when they knew or should have known that the person was intoxicated.

    Yes, you can sue the bar. But, the real quesiton is, in view of the many complexities of these cases, only a few of which I've summarized above, whether you have a claim that is likely enough to be a winner to justify the cost in time, effort and money.

    You can sue a bird for flying overhead. But, putting aside issues of service, what is the likelihood for success?

    This answer is provided for informational purposes only. True legal advice can only be provided in an office consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and with experience in the area of law in which your concern lies.


  3. The short answer is "yes" as to the person and "it depends" as to the bar.

    You can certainly sue the person who assaulted you, however, the likelihood of you obtaining a meaningful economic recovery from the individual is questionable and depends on his assets. Because assault is an intentional act he would not have insurance coverage for his actions and any judgment that you obtained against the individual would have to be collected against him personally, rather than an insurance policy. Depending on the state of his financial affairs this could result with a merely symbolic victory and no collectible monetary recovery. No matter what your decision is on pursuing a civil case against him you should definitely cooperate with the local prosecutors to be sure that he is held fully accountable on any criminal charges that were brought relating to the assault.

    As for the liability of the bar, in Illinois there would be two possible avenues of recovery depending on the circumstances. The first would be under the Dram Shop Act which covers cases where a person like yourself is injured by an individual that became intoxicated as a result of being served alcohol at the bar. If you are able to prove that (1) the person that assualted you became intoxicated as a result of alcohol served to him at the bar and (2) that his intoxication played a role in your injuries, then you are entitled to compensation under the act. This causal connection between the intoxication and your injury would not be a stretch with an assault because it is pretty well established that alcohol can compromise one's judgment and lead to aggressive and violent behavior that would not have manifested itself absent the intoxication. You should be mindful that there are defenses available to the bar which includes the "complicity" defense, wherein recovery is barred if you actively participated in the person's intoxication, i.e buying him drinks, etc., and that the damages are capped by the Act, meaning that your economic recovery is limited by the amounts set forth in the statute. In Illinois, the amount is currently less than $60,000. Most states have similar Dram Shop laws to that of Illinois and a personal injury attorney in Iowa would be well versed in the particulars of your state's statute.

    The second potential avenue of recovery would be for negligent security/supervision. If the bar provided security, such as a doorman or other bouncers, and you can prove that the assault was forseeable, for example there was a long verbal altercation prior to the actual assault wherein a bouncer could have and should have gotten involved to eject the aggressive patron or diffuse the situation prior to its escalation into a physical attack, then there could be liability against the bar. Moreover, in the event that they did not provide any security and based upon the circumstances at that particular bar they should have had security present, e.g. prior incidents of violence, then the bar could also be liable under the theory of negligent security. This type of claim would not be capped by the Dram Shop Act and therefore would not have the monetary limitations on recovery in Illinois.

    You should definitely consult a local attorney to discuss the circumstances specific to your case and the options available to you in Iowa.

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