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Indiana Supreme Court Rules that a Shooting Inside a Neighborhood Sports Bar is Not Foreseeable

Imagine attending your neighborhood sports bar on a Friday evening with a couple of friends. All is well until the man sitting nearby gets into an altercation with one of your friends and opens fire. Matters turn worse when you realize you have been shot. Thankfully, you survive the shooting. Most individuals in this situation would want to hold not only the shooter, but the sports bar responsible for their injuries. However, victims of shootings in sports bars may have limited recourses against sports bars according to the Indiana Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar and Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (2016).

In Goodwin, the plaintiffs were shot by a bar patron who thought one of the plaintiffs made a derogatory remark about the patron’s wife. In turn, the plaintiffs filed suit against the sports bar alleging that the sports bar was negligent in failing to provide security for its patrons; failing to search the patron for weapons and failing to warn the plaintiffs that the patron was armed and dangerous.

“To prevail on a claim of negligence (1) the plaintiff must show a duty owed to plaintiff by defendant; (2) breach of duty by allowing conduct to fall below the applicable standard of care and (3) compensable injury proximately caused by defendant’s breach of duty.” In analyzing whether a defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, Indiana law states that the court must determine whether the act at issue was foreseeable. Foreseeability in the duty element requires a more general analysis of the broad type of plaintiff and harm involved, without looking to the facts of the actual occurrence. Put another way, the court will determine whether there is a likelihood of harm that will cause a reasonable person to employ safeguards to prevent the harm.

The Indiana Supreme Court found that a sports bar owner does not usually anticipate that a patron might suddenly shoot another patron. The Court indicated that all crimes anywhere are necessarily foreseeable. However, the Court stated that to impose a blanket duty on bar owners to protect their patrons from being shot would make bar owners insurers of their patrons which is against public policy. Such a blanket duty would impose liability on the bar owners even if the proprietors were not negligent. In turn, the Court held that a shooting inside a neighborhood bar is not foreseeable as a matter of law.

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