Court of Appeal decides you could be responsible for violence against customers on your premises

Violence in pubs and clubs is an ever present risk particularly when large amounts of alcohol are consumed by customers into the night.  The extent to which managers of premises, are liable for the violent/criminal acts of one customer against another has been unclear.  The Court of Appeal has recently considered the issue in a case which will have huge implications for the management of licensed premises.

Two victims of a stabbing attack brought a claim against Comojo, the owner of the Metropolitain Bar in Old Park Lane, London where they were attacked by another customer.  The perpetrator of the attack was convicted in criminal proceedings and is currently serving a life sentence in prison. The victims claimed that the club had failed to take adequate steps to protect them as customers.  The Court decided that there was a duty of care in the circumstances owed by the bar to its customers but on the facts found that management was not in breach of that duty.

Duty to take reasonable care owed to customers
The Court applied a three prong test to determine that there was a duty of care owed by the management of the night club to its customers:

  1. The relationship was sufficiently proximate – customers were paying to be there so the bar had a duty of care towards them (which they would not have towards anyone passing by on the street and not paying to enter the club).  Guests are entitled to feel that they are safe and that there will not be violence in a night club particularly as entry was restricted to hotel residents, members and their guests.
  2. Injury was foreseeable – it must be foreseeable to any licensed hotelier that when alcohol is consumed this can lead to violence and there is a risk that one guest might assault another.  The degree of risk will depend on the nature of the establishment, type of customers, history of violent incidents etc.  Where the risk is greater it will be necessary to take more precautions.
  3. The Court considered it fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty of care in this case.

The Court considered that the level of precautions which an establishment needs to take will depend on the circumstances for example:

  • Where violence is a frequent occurrence a club may need to have someone specifically on hand to deal with outbreaks
  • If customers often try to bring weapons on to the premises it might be necessary to search all customers on entry
  • It may be necessary to have security staff present in particular areas of the club at busy times

In this case the establishment was a respectable Members Only club where violence was very rare and therefore these measures were not necessary.  It was enough that staff were trained to look out for acts of violence and report them to security staff.

This case has implications beyond nightclubs and would apply to all licensed premises where alcohol is consumed and therefore the risk of violence increases making the risk of injury to others forseeable.  Operators should ensure that they:

  • Carry out a regular risk assessment covering the risk of violence to customers and staff and keep a copy of the document produced
  • Implement appropriate measures to minimise the risks identified, e.g. produce a health and safety policy, employ door staff when necessary, search customers on entry
  • Train staff in policies adopted and to react appropriately should violence occur
  • Review and monitor assessments and policies regularly.

Failure to consider the risks and act accordingly may mean that in future, depending on the nature of your establishment, you may be held liable for the acts of violence of customers on your premises.

The HSE has produced a useful guide on managing work-related violence in licensed and retail premises.  This covers issues to consider when assessing risk of injury to employees and customers. 

Related Reading
Kimbells articles available on this web site

Protecting Staff from Customer Violence – read more here

Doorstaff – a responsible approach to preventing violence – read more here


Doorstaff – get the correct licence and training

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.