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Lawsuit Against Bar for Fight Denied

In California, bars, restaurants, and other establishments that are open to the public owe a duty of care to patrons to keep them reasonably safe and free from danger. This includes a duty to keep customers safe from other, potentially dangerous customers. In
Glynn v. Orange Circle Lounge Inc., Ca. Ct. App. Case No. G061255, the Court of Appeal considered the scope of the duty a bar owed to a guest who was stabbed to death in a fight an hour after he left the bar when the original fight began inside of the bar.

Factual and Procedural Background

On July 28, 2018, Nicholas Glynn went to the District Lounge with two friends, which is a bar owned by Orange Circle Lounge, Inc. in Orange, California. Shortly after midnight, Nicholas and one of his friends, J.D., got into a fight with some other bar patrons. The lounge’s security team broke up the fight and escorted both parties outside. The two groups started fighting again in the parking lot, but security quickly broke that fight up, too. The two groups then left the premises, and the police were not called.

Nicholas and J.D. went to another bar and met with a third friend. However, the two decided to go to a different friend’s house and left the third friend at the second bar. While Nicholas and J.D. were walking, they encountered the group from the District Lounge with whom they had previously fought in a parking lot. That group drove past Nicholas and J.D., and one of them threw a beer bottle at the pair, striking J.D. in the face. In response, Nicholas cursed at the group. They stopped the vehicle, got out, and stabbed Nicholas to death.

Nicholas’s parents, Tina and David Glynn, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Orange Circle Lounge, Inc. They alleged that the bar owed a duty of care to Nicholas and breached it by failing to call the police. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and argued that its duty to Nicolas ended when security broke up the second fight in the parking lot, and both groups left and went separate ways. The bar argued its duty did not continue to an off-premises site a block away an hour later. The trial court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion, and the plaintiffs filed an appeal.

Issue: Did Orange Circle Lounge’s Duty of Care Extend Beyond Its Premises When the Fight Originally Began in the Bar? Did the Defendant Violate the Duty of Care by Failing to Call the Police Upon the First or Second Fight?

The plaintiffs argued the trial court judge erred by granting the summary judgment motion. They argued that the defendants had the burden of showing an exception to the general duty of ordinary care and failed to do so. They also argued the court should not have found an exception to the general duty of care because any exception should only be found if it is in the interest of public policy. They also argued that any exception should only be recognized if it is a categorical rule.

Rule: Everyone has a duty of ordinary care to protect others from injury when they are visiting their property, including a duty of care to protect them from injuries caused by third parties.

Under Cal. Civ. Code § 1714, all people owe an ordinary duty of care to others while they are lawfully present on their property. Businesses and property owners must maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition to prevent lawfully present visitors from suffering foreseeable injuries. However, this duty doesn’t apply when the injured person willfully or wantonly brought the injury on themselves through their actions.


Under the California Supreme Court’s decision in Paz v. State of California, 22 Cal.4th 550 (2000), a defendant will not be liable for injuries caused by a third party when the defendant did not create the danger unless the defendant has some type of special relationship with the injured party. The relationship between a bar and its patrons is recognized as a special relationship under the decision in Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, 36 Cal.4th 224 (2005). After noting these two cases, the Court of Appeal stated that the legal issue was how far the special duty of care the bar owed to Nicholas as a bar patron extended rather than how far the ordinary duty of care would have reached.

As a part of the special relationship between bars and patrons, drinking establishments owe a duty of care to protect their guests from ongoing or imminent criminal conduct, including dangers in a parking lot. To address these potential issues, bars should provide escorts to patrons to their vehicles in parking lots to protect them from known dangers.

The Court of Appeal then applied these principles to Nicholas’s situation. First, they noted that Nicholas was not ill or injured at the time he left the bar, so the bar did not have a duty to summon help. They also noted that the criminal conduct that later occurred was not ongoing or imminent at the time Nicholas left the premises. Instead, security broke up the second fight in the parking lot, and Nicholas and J.D. left in a separate direction from the other group. Nicholas and J.D. then didn’t encounter their assailants until one hour after they had left the premises of the District Lounge while they were walking elsewhere. This meant that the danger was not imminent at the time they left the bar’s parking lot.

To determine whether Nicholas’s injuries and death arose out of the special relationship he had with the District Lounge, the Court of Appeal considered the following factors:

  • The foreseeability of his injuries
  • The certainty of his injuries
  • How connected his injuries and death were to the defendant’s conduct
  • Any moral blame held by the defendant for its conduct
  • The public policy of preventing harm to others in the future
  • Potential consequences of finding a duty of care and imposing liability

The court noted that Nicholas’s injuries were foreseeable since he had already been in two fights with the assailants inside the bar and then outside in the parking lot. The court also found that it was foreseeable the assailants would encounter Nicholas and J.D. later since they left the parking lot at the same time in the same area. The court also found that Nicholas’s injuries were certain since he was killed.

However, the Court of Appeal found that the third factor weighed heavily against finding a duty of care for the bar. Instead of being closely connected to the bar’s conduct, Nicholas’s third altercation and resulting death were separated in time and geography from the bar’s conduct. While the plaintiffs argued the bar should have called the police upon the first or second fight, the court found that if the police had been called, it would not have guaranteed the later fight would have been prevented.

The Court also found that the moral blame factor weighed against the plaintiffs. While the plaintiffs argued the bar failed to follow its internal policy of always calling the police, the court noted that a company’s private policy does not influence the finding of a legal duty. It also noted that the bar’s failure to call 911 when the two groups had been separated and left going separate ways was not negligent.

The court then found that a finding of liability in support of public policy to prevent similar future incidents only weakly weighed in the plaintiffs’ favor. It noted that the police do not arrest everyone who is involved in a bar fight and would likely have simply told the parties to go their separate ways just as the security staff did. Finally, the court found that the consequences of imposing a duty would be too great under the circumstances.


The court found that the bar’s duty of care to Nicholas ended when he and his friend and the other group left the parking lot peacefully while heading in different directions. The duty of care did not extend to a duty to protect Nicholas from future harm by the assailants an hour later at a different location. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant the motion for summary judgment, and the case was dismissed.

Consult an Injury Lawyer

If you were attacked by someone while visiting a bar or restaurant, you might have legal rights to pursue compensation from the establishment. However, you must determine whether the establishment owed you a duty of care, violated it, and contributed to your injuries. If the bar is liable, you could recover damages to pay for your losses. To learn more about your potential case and legal options, contact the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC by calling 1-866-966-5240.

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