Tavern exercised reasonable care, because harm was not foreseeable

Mollie Pawlosky Iowa Commercial Litigation Dickinson Law Des Moines, Iowa

Posted on 12/21/2016 at 08:00 AM by Mollie Pawlosky

The question whether a defendant breached a duty to an injured person turns on whether the defendant has exercised reasonable care with regard to the injured person.  If the defendant has exercised reasonable care, the injured person will not be allowed to recover.

Such was the result in Knight v. Elm King Enterprises, LLC, No. 15-2167 (Nov. 9, 2016).  In Knight, Knight filed a personal injury suit against tavern Elm King Enterprises, LLC and the tavern’s owners.  Knight alleged that the tavern failed to exercise reasonable care when Knight was assaulted by a bar patron.  The district court entered a summary judgment in favor of defendants, finding that the assault was not foreseeable to defendants.  Knight appealed.

The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, holding, “No reasonable person could find it foreseeable that the tavern environment brought about the assault.”  While at the tavern, an unknown woman approached Knight, and Knight did not feel threatened.  After Knight was assaulted, she stated that she could not believe that the assault had happened, because she “didn’t even know” the woman.  Knight stated to the police, “I didn’t expect what was coming.”  The bartender, as well, “had no reason to believe such an event would take place.”

In that context, the Court of Appeals held that, as a matter of law, the risk of harm was unforeseeable.  Summary judgment was appropriately granted for the defendants.

Attorneys practicing in torts may see Knight as an unusual case.  Whether a defendant has breached a duty, and whether a harm is foreseeable, are usually questions that are left to juries, not determined by judges as a matter of law.  However, in this instance, defendants’ counsel obtained statements made by the plaintiff, which admitted that not even Knight foresaw the harm.  In light of those statements, there was no dispute for a factfinder to decide.

The lesson of Knight is for defense counsel to gather evidence that the harm was not foreseeable to plaintiff or anyone else.  In such a context, the court may be persuaded that, as in Knight, there is no reason to proceed to trial.  For further information regarding Knight v. Elm King Enterprises, LLC, contact Mollie Pawlosky.

The material in this blog is not intended, nor should it be construed or relied upon, as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney if specific legal information is needed.

- Mollie Pawlosky


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