Nightclub / Bouncer Liability

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Most Common Personal Injury Law Issues:

Do Nightclub Bouncers/Security Have Any Special Authority?

Nightclub security, despite what you may have seen in the movies, do not have a blank check to beat up people they don't like.  It is a common misconception that "bouncers" have some kind of special right to physically remove people from the premises of a club, and to use choke holds and the like for people who refuse to leave.  This is completely false.  

In 99% of the nightclubs out there, bouncers are simply normal employees, not actual "security personnel" (who require special training and permits).  This means that the authority of a bouncer is the same as any ordinary citizen. Bouncers have no special right to physically eject a customer who becomes drunk or obnoxious, any more than a waiter at a cafe does.   

You might be surprised that, as far as the law is concerned, a bouncer can only ASK you to leave, and if you refuse, to then call the police and have you removed.  This is not to say that if he puts his hand on your back, "guiding" you to the door, he has committed a crime, but a bouncer has no more right to physically assault you than anyone else does.  

However, just like any other citizen, they DO have the right to defend themselves, or to detain you (with only reasonable restraint) if you are committing a crime.  So if you refuse to leave the club, and punch away any security people that approach, then the bouncers can likely claim self defense when they punch you back (and they will).

I Was Assaulted by a Nightclub Bouncer, What Remedies Do I Have?

While technically a bouncer has no more authority than anyone else, in the real world this may not be the case.  First of all, since they ARE allowed to defend themselves, if you are involved in an altercation with a bouncer, they will likely say that you started the fight.  Since most nightclubs will have several bouncers, and they will all corroborate the other's testimony, proving assault can be a problem.  This is why it is better not give any excuse for them to attack you, such as shoving or spitting at them.

However, if the fight you were in was ridiculously uneven (such as 10 bouncers pummeling you), then you probably have a case against them.  Many bouncers have little or no training, so they may employ tactics that are highly dangerous without knowing it, like sitting on you, or handcuffing you face-down on the ground (this has been known to cause suffocation).  Again, since they are normal citizens, they are subject to the same claims of assault and battery (both civil and criminal) that anyone else is.  

Assuming I Was Assaulted, Who is Liable?

This is another contentious issue in the courts today.  In general, if a nightclub bouncer uses unreasonable force against you, he is certainly liable for all kinds of damages.  However, since the average bouncer is probably not independently wealthy, you may end up with a worthless judgment against a penniless defendant.  This is why it is always prudent to also include the employer (i.e. the nightclub), in your lawsuit.  

But in employment liability claims, the employer is generally only liable to an employee for claims of negligence (as opposed to willful assault and battery).  It basically comes down to whether the bouncer was acting within the scope of his duty while attacking you (i.e. using too much force in following an order from his superiors), or if he was just acting on his own (i.e. you insult him, and he gets angry and punches you in the head).  

But the employers money will likely come from his insurance policy, and since almost every nightclub insurance policy includes an "assault and battery" clause (stating that the insurer will not cover claims of direct assault from one of the insured party's employees), the difference between negligence and assault can be tremendous.  Since the insurer is likely the source of any judgment that you will receive, they will ALWAYS claim that any misconduct on the nightclubs part was willful, rather than the result of negligence (which they would be forced to insure).  

Do I Need An Attorney?

It is recommended that you contact a personal injury attorney in your state immediately to find out how best to proceed with your case.  The slightest difference in the details of your story can be the difference between getting a big judgment to cover your injuries, and getting nothing, so make sure you have a counsel who is experienced and familiar with these sorts of cases.  

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Last Modified: 07-14-2014 03:47 PM PDT

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