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Liability for Criminal Acts and Violence Occurring Outside of Taverns and Bars

Posted by David P. McCormack

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During the early morning hours of Thanksgiving, a 29 year-old MBTA employee named Jephthe Chery was shot and killed outside of Who's On First, a well-known bar located on Yawkey Way right across from Fenway Park. Mr. Chery, who was an innocent bystander, was one of four men shot that morning after a private party at the bar turned violent.

Following the shootings, the Boston Police Department cited Who's On First for creating "an unsafe environment", although full details of what happened inside the bar that night have not been released.

This incident follows a September 2015 attack in which two woman were shot while leaving the same bar. In addition to these two shootings, the Boston Police have alluded to an ongoing problem with violence and assaults at the bar.

As more details of the tragic circumstances leading to Mr. Chery's death emerge, light hopefully will be shed on what employees of the bar knew regarding the events that led to the shootings.

Precedent for responsibility for patron death or injury

This blog has already addressed the common sense rationale for holding taverns and bars liable for patrons who are over served, drive drunk and then injure or kill people. A bar or tavern such as Who's On First, however, can also be held liable for assaults, crimes and other reasonably foreseeable violent acts committed by patrons outside the property, whether or not the acts are directly linked to the service of alcohol.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court addressed this issue in Christopher v. Father's Huddle Café, Inc., a case that was briefed and argued by SUGARMAN principles Marianne LeBlanc and Benjamin Zimmermann. 

The case resulted from the death of a young man who was killed during a fight that had started in a Boston tavern before moving out onto the street. Employees of the bar were aware of escalating tensions between two groups of people in the bar and knew that one group followed the other group outside in order to initiate a fight, but the employees took no steps to intervene or call the police. Tragically, a young man was struck by a car while trying to flee from his assailants during the ensuing altercation. 

Attorney LeBlanc tried the case to conclusion and obtained a $28,000,000.00 jury verdict for the young man's family, including a finding of gross negligence and an award of punitive damages against the bar owner.

On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the verdict that Attorney LeBlanc obtained against the bar. In doing so, it ruled that "the duty to protect patrons extends to all reasonably foreseeable harm including, in some circumstances, harm that occurs at a distance from the premises." This principle has been applied to other cases involving violence and assaults that occur outside of taverns and bars.

The personal injury attorneys at SUGARMAN have pursued some of the most notable and complex liquor liability cases in Massachusetts, including the Christopher case noted above. If you have a question about a liquor liability or alcohol-related accident case, please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617)-542-1000 or email one of the partners at out firm.