Harrington v. The Crystal Bar

Harrington v. The Crystal Bar, 2013 MT 209 (July 30, 2013) (5-0) (Rice, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Crystal Bar on Harrington’s negligence claim, and (2) on Harrington’s dram shop claim.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) yes.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, & remanded

Facts: Dennis Harrington visited the Crystal Bar in October 2007 with a group of friends. He got into an “abrasive conversation” with the bouncer, Duane Aune, and Jason Howard, an acquaintance of Aune’s. After the bar manager was told of the escalating argument, Harrington was asked to leave multiple times. He eventually left through the front door, followed by Howard 15-20 seconds later. Outside, Howard hit Harrington on the head, causing him to fall and hit his head on a parked car. Harrington sustained a serious head injury, was rendered unconscious, and hospitalized.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Harrington sued the Crystal Bar, alleging claims of negligence, dram shop, spoliation of evidence, and punitive damages. The Crystal Bar moved for summary judgment on the negligence and dram shop claims. The district court granted the motion and Harrington appeals. The Supreme Court reverses summary judgment on the negligence claim and affirms it on the dram shop claim.

Reasoning: (1) A tavern keeper has a duty of reasonable care to protect patrons from injury by other patrons. Kipp v. Wong. Whether closing the bar door on a potentially violent situation that has moved outside breaches a tavern keeper’s duty of reasonable care is a factual question for the jury. Moreover, Harrington has raised genuine issues of material fact that are in dispute.

(2) A tavern owner is liable for foreseeable injury-producing accidents of a patron if the owner provided alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron. § 27-1-710(3), MCA; Cusenbary, ¶ 22. Here, there is no evidence that Howard had been served any alcohol at the Crystal.