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They Fight, You Pay

icon Blog on Legal/Legislation/Regulations/Compliance  •  posted 04/30/14
A lawsuit has been filed as a result of that violent brawl in the lobby of the Philadelphia Sheraton Society Hill that made national news more than one year ago (video refresher here). The fight ended in three arrests and one death, that of a 57-year-old man, who had escaped outside to avoid the fisticuffs. The altercation apparently erupted between guests of two different wedding parties, and the family of the man who died that night is suing the hotel, claiming there was inadequate security and employees served too much alcohol to patrons.
The incident reminds us of a legal case from a few years back. In that one, at a Sigma Chi event in the bar of a 300-acre resort, frat brothers got into a fight with members of a wedding party during closing time. One of the injured frat brothers sued the resort for his injuries and received an award of $1.47 million (and that was the reduced amount).
To determine foreseeability in the case the court accepted evidence of other incidents and examined the usual factors: proximity, recency, frequency, similarity, and publicity. Plaintiff attorneys turned up 14 alleged assault-type incidents at the resort in the prior three and one-half years.
The case is eye-opening given the large size of the resort and that of the 14 alleged crimes, only five occurred in or just outside the bar. In fact, a security officer on duty at the time got to the bar 15 to 20 seconds after dispatch to the incident. So it’s easy to think that if the assault had been near the pool—while security officers were watching the bar—then the resort would have lost that case, too.
What is the lesson? If security can’t be everywhere at once but can lose lawsuits as if it should be, what hope is there?
The details of the case—although not key to the verdict—sug-gest the answer. Although the fight occurred at closing time, the wedding party and frat brothers hours earlier had gotten into a verbal confrontation that included some cussing and name-calling. Unfortunately, the waitress who witnessed the trouble didn’t think it was worth calling security, thereby missing the resort’s best chance to prevent the fisticuffs. If she had received training that taught her to call security when she saw a verbal confrontation, then security officers could have known where—on the hundreds of acres—it made most sense to be. 
Security needs the eyes and ears of workers to nip situations in the bud—and prevent lawsuits.

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