Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol XXXVII

Tonight's weird (but true) legal case analysis asks the question - can a bouncer who was injured trying to keep people out of a New Year's Eve party recover damages against the party promoter?

In the case of Vetrone v. Ha Di Corp., 22 A.D.3d 835, 803 N.Y.S.2d 156 (2d Dept. 2005), the Appellate Division dealt with a matter in which a security guard was injured when angry ticketholders were denied entry to a New Year's Eve party. As discussed by the court in its decision, in December 2000 a restaurant entered into an agreement with a 19 years old and two of his friends, to organize and promote a New Year's Eve party at the restaurant. The organizer and his friends prepared promotional materials and sold a number of advance tickets for the event, and were to receive $20 for each $65 advance ticket sold. Although the organizer could not recall the precise number of advance tickets sold, he testified without contradiction that he and his friends received between $3,900 and $4,200 for advance ticket sales, an amount corresponding to profit on the sale of between 196 and 210 prepaid tickets.

The organizer then told the restaurant owner that there would be a large number of guests, and both agreed that it would be necessary to hire security. As a result, the plaintiff Stephen Vetrone and another individual were hired to provide security for the event.

On the night of the party, notwithstanding the large number of prepaid tickets sold, the restaurant also admitted non-ticketholders at the door for $100 per person. At approximately 11:30 P.M., the owner was informed by his staff that there were 130 to 140 patrons in the restaurant, and he decided that the establishment was “overcrowded.” He therefore directed Vetrone not to allow anyone else to enter. At that time there were still approximately 50 to 100 people, including many prepaid ticket holders, standing outside, with approximately 30 to 40 of them waiting in line at the door. According to Vetrone, an unidentified associate of the organizer yelled at the crowd from inside the restaurant, cursing and telling people that they should go home and that no one else would be admitted. The crowd grew agitated and, when Vetrone tried to close the front door, one of the prepaid ticket holders who had been standing in the doorway, refused to move out of the way and attempted to walk past him. Vetrone physically blocked his path and a scuffle ensued during which Vetrone allegedly sustained injuries after he was attacked by individuals in the crowd. The police intervened and closed the restaurant for “apparent overcrowding and underage drinking.”

In discussing the possible liability of the promoters and restaurant owner, the court noted that
There was evidence that [the organizer and his associates] knowingly sold tickets to a significantly greater number of people than the venue could accommodate, and were physically present at the premises helping to control the event when the incident occurred. Moreover, [] the owners of the restaurant, knew of its 150-person capacity, yet not only permitted [the organzier] and his associates to sell prepaid tickets to far more individuals than the restaurant could accommodate but also admitted non-ticketholders at the door.
The court then concluded that
Vetrone, who was present because he was hired as a security guard for the New Year's Eve party, reasonably had the right to expect that [] the event's organizer and promoter, and [] the restaurant's owners, would not so overbook the event as to require him, acting virtually alone, to face a large crowd of angry ticketholders who paid to attend the party, but were unexpectedly and rudely denied entry and told to go home. Nor do we agree with the organizer [] that, in effect, he owed no duty to Vetrone because, as a security guard, Vetrone necessarily assumed the risk that the event would be so overbooked as to put him in the position of having to face and turn away this large crowd seeking entry on the basis of prepaid tickets.
One other interesting point was that the defendants tried to argue that it was not foreseeable that "when, only a half-hour before midnight, a large number of people were roughly and without explanation refused entry to a New Year's Eve party for which they had already paid, some in the group would become unruly and even violent."

The court's holding dispelled this argument, as the court stated that:
[U]nder circumstances of this case, we cannot conclude that, as a matter of law, the assault upon Vetrone as he tried to close the door of the restaurant on a crowd of people holding prepaid tickets was far removed from, or an unforeseeable consequence and independent of, the conduct of the [organizer and restaurant owner], in negligently overbooking the event and in then directing the unceremonious denial of admission to this large crowd of people who were there to attend a New Year's Eve party for which they had already paid.
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