Bar Regular Awarded $5 Million; Security Personnel Held Partly Liable

Brain Injury
Excessive Force

By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer

Twenty-eight-year old Shawn Dearing was awarded $5 million in damages after being struck in the head by a bouncer, even though Dearing was partly to blame for the violent altercation that caused him to suffer brain fractures leading to a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In a novel decision, Shawn Dearing v. Cabo Cantina, et al, which promises to have widespread ramifications for bar owners’ liability in California, Dearing’s damages were reduced by the percentage of fault assigned him.

Steven M. Sweat, writing in the National Law Review, says after an 11-day trial, the jury returned a gross award of $9,254,397.21 in Dearing’s favor, minus 42 percent to account for Dearing’s blame in the matter.

Facts of the Case

Dearing was waiting outside of the Cabo Cantina for his friends to leave the bar at 2 A.M one recent evening, Sweat says.

“Dearing was leaning up against a rail that separated the bar’s property from the sidewalk,” he says.

“A security guard employed by the Cabo Cantina told Dearing to stop leaning on the rail and an argument ensued. The security guard then walked off of the bar’s property and onto the sidewalk with Dearing following him.”

When the security guard’s supervisor appeared, reportedly escalating the dispute, Dearing slapped the guard’s hand away, provoking him to hit Dearing in the temporal region of his skull.

Sweat says “the force of the blow caused skull fractures, and he sustained an additional fracture in the occipital region” when his head hit the sidewalk.

Dearing was hospitalized for three days following this assault, suffering from a TBI.

He filed suit against Cabo Cantina, its management company, and the security firm employed by the bar.

“He argued that the security guards violated the policies of Cabo Cantina by leaving the bar’s property, using excessive force and did not de-escalate the situation,” Sweat says.

The defendant, Global Protection Group, turned the case over to its insurance company, which refused to defend it.

Global Protection argued that Dearing started the fight and that the security guard acted in self-defense when striking Dearing in the head.

The security company also alleged Dearing was drunk, had started the fight and lost.

Overly Aggressive Security Staff

These allegations didn’t pass muster with the L.A. jurors.

Instead, Shawn Dearing v. Cabo Cantina, et al, found for the plaintiff that security guard employers may be liable for their guards’ actions if they assault patrons after the poorly-trained guards are hired and placed in positions in which the assaults were “reasonably foreseeable”, Sweat says.

Steven M. Sweat is an attorney in California. For more information about Mr. Sweat, please visit his profile or his website.

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