All bars, restaurants, and other public establishments have an obligation to undertake reasonable steps to secure common areas against the foreseeable criminal acts of third parties. Many cases is this area of the law deal with safety in apartment buildings or employee safety in liquor stores, convenience stores and check cashing kiosks. It is important for bar and restaurant owners to understand the liability if they don’t implement safety measures a reasonable person would implement under similar circumstances. In a recent case involving a Denny’s restaurant in Palm Springs, California, the California Court of Appeals stated that “The more certain the likelihood of harm, the higher the burden a court will impose on a [proprietor] to prevent it; the less foreseeable the harm, the lower the burden a court will place on a [proprietor].” The court examined the extent of the restaurant owner’s duty to take action to prevent gang violence.
In this case, the restaurant owner was liable because it adopted no meaningful new security measures after a known gang fight. Put more simply, turning a blind eye was not tolerated. As the court said:
We emphasize that we are not saying that a business that is plagued by gang members necessarily has to shut down (even for a few hours). It would be perfectly reasonable for it to experiment first with lesser measures, such as surveillance cameras, security guards, or a protective order. [restaurant owner argues that] it is speculative [whether] these would have been successful. What we can say with certainty is that either these measures would have worked, or else closing down the restaurant would have worked.
If you own a restaurant, you have a duty to your patrons and employees to establish security that is reasonable under the circumstances. If the circumstances are as dire as described in this case, your best course of action may be to close the restaurant during the dangerous hours. This was an extreme case. Few situations rise to this level. If you find yourself facing these situations, contact your attorney to discuss some options. Those of us who work in this industry can help you find an effective and affordable solution to your situation.