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Who is liable in a bar fight?

Fortunately most pubs and nightclubs are civil and don't turn into a scene out of an old western movie. That isn't to say fights don't still happen. When they do, the common injuries include bruises, scrapes and more serious results such as facial injuries to the nose and eyes and even the brain.

A fight broke out in a New York nightclub that included Matt Barnes and DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings earlier this week. No criminal charges have been filed, but there is a civil suit pending where two people claim that Barnes and Cousins assaulted them.

What happens if you're the victim in such a fracas?

Civil and criminal

In any bar fight, there are two types of charges. Criminal charges come from the police. These will not affect you, unless you provide evidence or testimony. A civil suit is separate. Sometimes both suits will proceed. With Barnes and Cousins, it appears that only a civil suit is forthcoming.

Injuries and damages

In a civil suit, you are suing for damages. This means coverage of medical expenses, but also compensation for any lost income and suffering.

Many people miss work to visit the doctor. For serious injuries and with unsympathetic employers, this can result in losing your job. In other cases, injuries may cost you the ability to pursue a personal passion or it may affect your relationship with your family. If you've lost use of your arm and can't play catch with your son, that is worth more than your doctor bill says. These are all measurable damages that factor into compensation.

Assailants and premise liability

In most bar fights there are two potential liabilities:

The assailant is the one who assaulted you, directly causing injury. An instigator of a fight may be responsible for the damages. Evidence will have to show that the act was intentional and that any action on your behalf was self-defense.

In premise liability, the bar or nightclub may be to blame. It's well known that alcohol inclines some people to act aggressively, but that's no excuse for their behavior. A place of gathering has an obligation to provide a safe space for customers. If the bar was negligent, they are liable for damages. For a fight, this means over serving a customer, failure to act on previously violent behavior, or a lack of security to pacify the situation.

Seeking damages

When you go out on the town, it's to relax with friends, to celebrate an accomplish or to blow off steam. As with any recreation, there is an expectation that the place you're spending your dollars is a safe one.

It's common for security to rush you out the door after a fight. This is to "break it up," but also to protect their own interests. The problem is not resolved when the fight is over. A crime has been committed and you deserve to see the process all the way through: getting medical help for a situation that others created.

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