As bars and nightclubs begin to reopen, and Saturday night comes back to life, liability risks return for these establishments. What can bar owners do to mitigate these risks?
The Occupiers’ Liability Act imposes a legal duty on bar owners to take reasonable steps to see that persons on their premises are reasonably safe. Although what qualifies as “reasonable steps” will depend on the circumstances of each case, the decision in Bucknol v. 2280882 Ontario Inc. provides guidance on how bar owners can protect themselves.
In Bucknol, the plaintiff was a bar patron who was struck in the face by a flying beer bottle and was seriously injured. Moments before he was hurt, the plaintiff saw an altercation in the bar and believed that the bottle came from one of the brawlers. The person who threw the bottle was never identified and the plaintiff sued the bar for negligence.
In response, the nightclub brought a motion for summary judgment and argued (among other things) that it took reasonable steps to see that its customers were reasonably safe. Justice Coroza granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, noting that the bar took the following positive steps to create a safe environment: it hired more licensed security guards than the Toronto Municipal Code required; ensured that security was posted at all entrances and exits; established a police presence to deter criminal behaviour; installed 16 surveillance cameras within the premises; required bartenders to be Smart Serve certified; and employed busboys to clear glass bottles throughout the night.
While this list is not exhaustive, it provided Justice Coroza with a sufficient basis to conclude that the bar took reasonable steps to minimize risk of injury to its customers and, accordingly, discharged its duty to the plaintiff.
Moments before he was hurt, the plaintiff saw an altercation in the bar and believed that the bottle came from one of the brawlers.