On August 6, 2014, the Washington Post reported that the D.C. Liquor Control Board (Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, “ABRA”) “summarily suspended” Club Asia’s liquor license because of actor Anwan Glover being stabbed there. That was after the police chief closed the club down for 96 hours in an “emergency decree.” According to the Post, Glover was a bystander during a fight. He got hit in the head, knocked down, beaten and stabbed. Fortunately, he survived his wounds.
When violence, injury, and/or death are linked to nightclubs, bars, and restaurants operating like nightclubs, the loss of the liquor license and a lawsuit are always potential consequences. There is a lot at stake personally and financially for the business owner.
A couple of things remain to be seen in this case. First, whether the club will appeal the ABRA’s ruling and somehow recover its liquor license. Second, whether the Glover will sue the establishment. And even if the liquor license is reinstated, there could still be a lawsuit. A lawsuit is a separate legal issue.
There are many factors that contribute to violence and aggression in bars. Most of these can and should be controlled by the bar owner. In the U.S. Department of Justice publication, Assaults in and Around Bars, these factors are identified as:
• Alcohol (a disinhibitor)
• Culture of drinking
• Type of establishment
• Concentration of bars
• Bar closing time
• Aggressive bouncers
• High proportion of young male strangers
• Price discounting of drinks
• Continued service to drunken patrons
• Crowding and lack of comfort
• Competitive situations
• Low ratio of staff to patrons
• Lack of good entertainment
• Unattractive décor and dim lighting
• Tolerance for disorderly conduct
• Availability of weapons
• Low levels of police enforcement and regulation
When an incident such as this ends in a lawsuit, you can be sure the plaintiff (person suing) will try to show how the club was somehow negligent and responsible for the harm. Plaintiff will try to show that the way the bar was operated fell below the standard of care that it is morally and legally required to meet. That is, the type of care that a reasonable person would provide under the same circumstances. A few of the questions to be answered in whether the standard of care was met include:
• Did the business assess its risk at any point and then implement written alcohol policies to address its risk? For example, what were the pouring policies? What steps were taken to discourage intoxication? To prevent overcrowding? Was a security plan in place?
• Did the business provide training for its employees (including security) and managers on an ongoing basis? How comprehensive was the training? Were employees tested and spot-checked frequently for knowledge of house policies?
• Was there accountability? Were there discipline policies in place for employees who did not follow policies? Likewise, are employees rewarded for being responsible? Do managers back up employees’ decisions to refuse service to minors or intoxicated patrons?
• Did employees adhere to laws, rules and regulations? For example, did they service obviously or visibly intoxicated guests? Underage guests? Did they allow drunken patrons to enter and remain in the business?
If the answers to the above questions are yes, then a licensee is better able to defend itself in the event of a lawsuit. But no matter what the outcome, there costs are enormous in terms of lost profits, employee layoffs, and damaged reputation.