Owning a bar has always come with its challenges. From being able to turn a profit to keeping customers coming in the door, no bar has a flawless plan when it comes to staying open. Bar owners may seek answers regarding paying off startup costs or if they’ll still be a relevant nightlife watering hole in 10 years. But while these uncertainties are legitimate, what’s often overlooked is the legal risk of bar lawsuits that are connected with company ownership.
Bar ownership can present a number of unique legal issues, putting bar owners in a legally vulnerable role. Bars can be fast-paced, loud, exciting, dark, and altogether unpredictable from night to night, especially as the clientele can be totally different on Wednesday compared to Saturday. This can open the door to plenty of mishaps and potential legal risks.
Here are five common bar lawsuits that they face on a regular basis and how to avoid them.
Employment and Wage Lawsuits
Bar owners have to be able to navigate a complex tangle of laws and regulations that affect the employment relationship. Most bar owners might be shocked when they learn about the specificity of regulations, especially when they detail the legality of paying hourly employees.
Owners should be aware of any service charges that are charged in lieu of tips because these may have major tax or legal consequences connected with them for staff and management. And although bar employees are usually paid on an hourly basis, shifts in the bar industry don’t depend on what time the clock reads. Instead, most shifts end when a rush is over.
Bar owners should be careful to establish procedures to take care of when and how staff are paid for when they spend more time on the clock, otherwise they can become another statistic for bar lawsuits across the country.
Dram Shop Laws
Bars could end up being liable for overserving alcohol if the person they serve ends up causing an accident of some kind, such as a drunk driving accident. These laws are called dram shop laws and can vary by state.
Dram shop laws outline the consequences for selling alcohol to anyone who is already intoxicated or underage. They lay out the consequences that bars face for injuries to innocent bystanders that result from someone’s over-intoxication. For bar owners, it’s important to make note that some of these laws can go past their property and make them personally liable for a patron driving under the influence.
To protect against this issue, bar owners should train all staff, especially bartenders and servers, to stop from overserving people who already seem intoxicated. Another way is to invest in Bar and Tavern Insurance, which can protect a bar when a claim related to overserving is made. Bar and Tavern Insurance is a comprehensive safety net for bar owners looking to operate, knowing their business will be protected if legal issues arise.
Slips and Falls
With a nickname like watering hole, it’s no wonder that slips and falls are quite common in the bar industry. A slip and fall is a type of personal injury claim that someone can file against a bar if they end up slipping, tripping, and/or falling on the premises of a bar and end up injuring themselves or someone else. These falls are usually a result of the bar owners negligence and can easily be proven one way or the other.
Due to its fast-paced environment, a bar is ground zero for plenty of these issues. Being sure to take care of spills, whether they’re on tables, bars, chairs, or the floors, staff should constantly be cleaning and keeping an eye on the integrity of the entire space to make sure there are no potential lawsuits waiting to happen. Bar owners should have staff on board that regularly cleans and checks their areas to see if anything needs to get mopped up in order to keep everyone, including the staff, safe from slips and falls.
Much like restaurants, bars, especially those that serve food and snacks, can find themselves on the hook for health code violations. Bars that fail to comply with federal or state codes aren’t always sued, per se, but their business can be shut down for a period of time and their license revoked.
Non-compliance with health safety standards can end with a bar being sued if the violations result in some kind of injury, illness or death of a customer or employee. Because the standards for bars tend to change quickly and regularly, it’s important for owners to keep an updated list of codes and regulations.
Lastly, it’s important to understand the legal trouble a classic bar fight could put an establishment in. Bar lawsuits for damages resulting from a fight is counted as a standard personal injury case or negligence. The only exception here is if the fight was mutually agreed upon, in which case the bar wouldn’t be counted as negligent.
Claims against bars in fight cases usually include intoxicated assailants and will typically involve the bar’s security and alcohol service outlines. All bars have a duty to act reasonably to provide the necessary security and safety for their patrons. Reasonable security in a bar might include serving drinks in plastic cups, having multiple bouncers and third-party security staff, and firmly securing tables and chairs to the floor.
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