Reasons to Take Legal Action Against a Restaurant

Restaurant owners encounter thousands of guests every year, and it’s possible that one of them may choose to pursue legal action for various reasons. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of being sued, there are steps that owners can take to significantly reduce the likelihood. In this article, we will explore the most common reasons guests sue restaurant owners and discuss how owners can minimize their exposure.

Slip-and-Fall Accidents

According to the National Restaurant Association, slips and falls are the most frequent general liability claims in the industry.

What can you do? To decrease the chances of a slip-and-fall accident, establish a written policy that demonstrates your commitment to patron safety. Be explicit in this policy, covering both routine spills made by customers and employees and any other circumstances that could make surfaces dangerously slippery. If you have concerns about the slipperiness of any area, consider having it assessed by an expert who can test its co-efficient of friction and determine if it meets industry standards. If necessary, take action to eliminate the risk of falls.

Altercations Between Patrons

The second most common cause of lawsuits against restaurants involves injuries resulting from altercations between patrons, particularly when excessive alcohol consumption escalates the situation. Restaurants face significant risks when multiple guests are asked to leave due to a verbal dispute.

What can you do? First and foremost, avoid overserving alcohol to guests. Although California no longer holds restaurants liable for overserving alcohol to adult patrons, it can still be used against you in a trial. Even if bartenders and management are unaware of a guest’s alcohol intake prior to their arrival, an intoxicated customer poses a significant risk, and it’s essential to have a policy in place. Employees should be trained to handle altercations promptly, ensuring that the situation does not escalate. Make it clear in your policy when it is necessary to involve the authorities. Simply asking guests to leave and washing your hands of the incident is inadequate. Industry standards now require potentially combative guests to exit through different doors at different times. It’s advisable to assign designated employees to escort the guest not only to the door but also outside, ensuring the other combative party is not lurking nearby on the premises.

Altercations Between Employees and Patrons

Fights between a guest and an employee frequently lead to lawsuits.

What can you do? Some restaurants have adopted a “hands-off” policy, refraining from any physical contact with guests. If a guest refuses to leave, the police are called. If employees are allowed to make physical contact, it is crucial to train them in using only reasonable and necessary force and to avoid escalating the situation. In most cases, seeking assistance from law enforcement is safer. The presence of security cameras throughout your establishment will prove beneficial in litigated matters. Implement a written policy that addresses the safety of both your staff and patrons.

More Scenarios to Avoid

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Serving Alcohol to an Obviously Intoxicated Patron or Minor

Although restaurants and bars are no longer liable for serving excessive amounts of alcohol to a patron, they can still be held responsible for serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated customer or a minor.

What can you do? Prevention in this scenario is straightforward but involves two essential measures. First, establish a written policy prohibiting the over-service of alcohol to intoxicated customers. Second, strictly enforce a policy for checking IDs.

Allowing Unruly Behavior by Patrons

Restaurant owners can face lawsuits if they fail to control unruly guests who end up causing harm to others. This situation often occurs in nightclubs and bars with crowded dance floors, where guests can become disruptive over minor incidents.

What can you do? Written policies are invaluable in limiting your liability in these cases. Train your employees on how to safely defuse these situations. Remember, once you have established a written policy, it must be strictly followed; otherwise, it could be used against you in a trial.

Food Poisoning or Foreign Substances in Food

Lawsuits related to food poisoning and foreign substances in food are less common than the previously mentioned types of lawsuits. However, even the cleanest establishments can be affected.

What can you do? Ensure that your staff adheres to written guidelines concerning proper training and sanitation practices. Verify that your establishment meets health and sanitation requirements in your area and document how these guidelines are followed. Be prepared to provide evidence of necessary inspections, if required. By maintaining strict control over the quality and safety of the food you serve, you can minimize your exposure in these areas.

It is essential for every restaurant to have general liability insurance to cover potential losses and the high cost of legal defense. While these preventative measures cannot guarantee that restaurant owners will never face lawsuits, they can significantly reduce the risk. By reducing risk, you can improve your establishment’s track record, potentially resulting in lower insurance premiums. Although the measures mentioned above may seem like common sense, accurately documenting and enforcing these practices will significantly decrease your chances of being sued.

Ambassadeur Hotel is dedicated to providing a safe and enjoyable dining experience for our guests.