Federal court in D.C. rejects dramshop liability claims arising from off-premises fight

Partner Steve Schwinn, assisted by Raphael Cohen, of Jordan Coyne, LLP secured the dismissal of all claims against a District of Columbia nightclub owner seeking damages arising from the death of a graduate school student who became involved in a fight outside a fast food restaurant with three men who had been served alcohol at the nightclub down the street about an hour before. U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon held that the nightclub owner could not be liable for the death because it could not have been foreseen that the men would commit the assault upon the decedent.

Plaintiffs alleged the men were served alcohol while obviously intoxicated, in violation of the Alcohol Beverages Control Act, and argued that the assault was foreseeable because intoxication often leads to irresponsible and criminal behavior. The Court rejected the argument, finding that the death was caused by the intentional and unforeseeable acts of third parties that were too attenuated from the alleged negligence to support a claim. Recognizing that drinking establishments may be found negligent where a violation of the Act is a contributing cause of an accidental injury, Judge Leon explained that civil liability for the intervening criminal acts of others is extraordinary and requires a more heightened showing of foreseeability than that alleged by the plaintiffs.

The case, Casey v. Ward, et al., Case No.: 13-1452 (D.D.C. 2015), will continue on the claims against the individuals involved in the fight, and the fast food restaurant where the altercation began. On appeal, the claims against the bars were reversed and remanded. Casey v. Ward, __ F.3d __ (D.C. Cir. Jan. 26, 2018). For further information concerning this matter or any other similar matter, please call Steve Schwinn at 703-246-0900.

Copies of opinions in the case can be found here and here.