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Complexities of holding venues liable for customer violence


What if somebody has seriously injured your loved one while they were just trying to live their life, perhaps at an outdoor music festival, in a bar or in the parking lot of a store?

California businesses have a special responsibility to protect the safety of their customers, even from assault by other customers. Still, California law on this issue is deeply complex and forever evolving. An experienced attorney can assess whether legal action can help you. if you have a viable case.

Responsibilities of property owners

California law suggests venues have a special relationship with customers and many duties to fulfill, especially in a crisis. But there’s only so much they’re reasonably expected to do. This borderline between duty and reasonableness is a winding and changing frontier in California.

On its property, a venue must warn customers of foreseeable dangers and intervene if they’re being hurt. They might even have these duties off their property, such as in an adjacent parking lot or between the door and a patron’s vehicle. On the other hand, they’re not generally responsible for what happens to you before you arrive or after you leave. Courts struggle with drawing that line.

And “foreseeable” to some may be a bolt from the blue to others. Much might depend on the skill an attorney brings in discovering the history of the venue, including prior police calls, customer and employee complaints, lawsuits and more.

Insurance and people at fault

Commonly, much of the money from a court settlement often comes from the venue’s insurance company. But insurance law is another complex and contested area.

For example, insurance policies don’t ordinarily cover actions of third parties, such as customers picking fights with each other. On the other hand, if the venue serves minors who are obviously drunk, California law generally invalidates this exception.

Or, who insures a music festival with 10 bands performing? The organizer of the festival, the security firm, the vendor selling beer, and each of the ten bands may all be covered, and each for different circumstances.

Besides, it usually takes two to fight, and sometimes dozens. In California, when two people are involved, one may be 20% at fault and the other 80%, and this is likely to factor into the settlement. When the venue and multiple combatants all share some responsibility, the math alone can get dense.