“Provoke bar fight; get beat up in parking lot; sue bar — and maybe win”

Ryan Koopmans summarizes a baffling Iowa Supreme Court case in which a 4-3 majority of justices decided a bowling alley owner could be sued for having thrown a customer out for insulting a second customer, who — after reacting calmly at the time — then went out to the parking lot and committed violence on his provoker:

So what are the takeaways from the Hoyt decision? For bar and restaurant owners: It’s not enough to kick out an aggressive bar patron; unless you want to pay the cost of litigation and a full trial, your employees should call the police every time one patron taunts another, or, at the very least, they should personally escort every trash-talker to his car.

The takeaway for police departments: You’re going to need more officers.


  • So a guy tries to start a fight, gets kicked out of a bar without the fight he wanted, then the fight tracks him down later and he receives the fight he wanted all along. After losing the fight he started, he sues whoever has money.

    This reminds me of the recently named “Zimmerman Maneuver”: start a fight with an unarmed person; wait until you are about to lose the fight; escalate to deadly force; be freed for standing your ground. We are still waiting to see if the Maneuver is successful.

    In this case, however, the decision merely allows the suit to go forward. Our courts are deferential to plaintiffs but in this case the plaintiff doesn’t seem to have a strong case: one court threw out the complaint on summary judgement, and then a higher court reinstated the case but juuuuuust barely, 4-3. Now the plaintiff will have to get past both a jury and a judge. Sure, I’m probably with the 3 justices of the minority, but this isn’t exactly a travesty of justice.

  • Anonymous Nicholas puts this in context. This guy’s chances of winning is extremely unlikely. But it is a basic negligent security case. Even the dissent admitted that negligence cases in general and bar fights in particular are poor candidates for summary judgment. You might argue that judges should be able to make some initial factual inquires to find out if the case has any chance of being successful. But they don’t which I think makes this the correct ruling.

    The dissent seems to be predicting – probably correctly but still predicting – how the facts will go.

  • This case is another example of why we need loser pays.

    Isn’t comparing this case to Zimmerman like comparing apples to oranges? Zimmerman is a criminal case and this is a civil case.

  • I think Zimmerman is both, actually. There has already been a big settlement with the HOA.

  • This reminds me of the recently named “Zimmerman Maneuver”: start a fight with an unarmed person; wait until you are about to lose the fight; escalate to deadly force; be freed for standing your ground.

    The evidence seems to be that Martin – not Zimmerman – started the actual fight.

    Zimmerman did not escalate to deadly force – Martin did.

    Maybe the so called “Zimmerman Maneuver” should be put on the long list of false internet memes.

  • I must disagree with gitarcarver…following a 17-year old around, at night, in the rain, is bound to cause some sort of “fight or flight” reaction. High school kids engage in fisticuffs every day for less reason. Zimmerman had no business tracking that kid so closely that a fight was possible. Perhaps he could not see how old the boy was? All the more reason not to shadow him. The lesson that I take from this (besides the fact that the media cannot be trusted any more to cover any story that can be spun for political benefit) is that cop wanna-be’s should not be patrolling neighborhoods until and unless they have had adequate training.

  • Ummm…I don’t know how the heck we got to Zimmerman…

    This man went looking for a fight and found one. Now, he just wants the deep-pocket to be on the hook. Should be loser pays so that he is on the hook for a good chunk of change.

    Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch man that many people think should not have bothered to watch. Not sure of exactly what transpired between the 2, but I believe that the only witness said that Martin was beating the poopy out of Zimmerman.

  • HFB:
    We got to Zimmerman thru gitarcarver’s comment.
    My point is not who was winning the fight (I think Zimmerman was within his rights to use deadly force when he did) , but that an armed man, with no training, uniform or other badge of authority, takes a terrible risk when he shadows a 17 year old kid, a stranger, at night. Had he stayed in his car, and let the police handle it , Trayvon might be alive today, and the press and our President would not have had the opportunity to make political hay out of this mess.
    I’ll be perfectly frank, at Trayvon’s age, I might have taken a swing at some stranger pursuing me under those circumstances, just out of fear.

  • And, if you were on someone’s property at night and live in a state that allows the owner to carry a firearm, you’d be dead too…

    Look, the first commenter is the one who brought up Zimmerman. I just don’t see the similarity between a man who was tasked with being part of the neighborhood watch doing what he is supposed to do, with a person who actually is looking for a FIGHT then blaming someone else once he is left holding his butt. As far as I know, Zimmerman isn’t looking to get paid for being attacked by Trayvon.

    Since most property is owned by somebody, it just makes no sense to blame the location for your actions that are all your own…

  • Mike,

    Actually, I think we got here through Anonymous Nicholas’ comment as he was the first to bring up Zimmerman.

    While your point may not have been to address who started the fight and to address Zimmerman’s actions, my point was simply that Zimmerman did not start the actual fight. He does not appear to have been the person to take the first swing.

    On a related note, Zimmerman’s statements say he was returning to his vehicle after losing sight of Martin.

    Finally, in essence you and others seem to believe that Zimmerman was wrong for his actions. Just how does that play out? Zimmerman was looking out for his neighbors. How is that wrong?

    The problem really is that we have two approaches to the Martin – Zimmerman encounter. The first is Zimmerman looking out for his friends and neighbors and Martin who couldn’t conceive of that and could only think that someone was out to get him.

    How good would it have been if the two guys had met and Zimmerman said “I’m from a neighborhood watch program…. can I help you?”
    Martin: “I am staying with my dad and needed to take a walk. Thanks for looking out for everyone.”

    (Or something along those lines.)

    You say that if you were that age you might have taken a swing as well. For me, at that age, I would never have been out that late on a school night without a parent knowing it and if I were, half the neighborhood would have been watching because that is what neighbors did – they looked out for each other and the people in the neighborhood.

    If both people that night had considered things other than their preconceived notions of what was going on, things might have turned out differently. No need for the police and no need for the courts.

    Just people looking out for each other.