PATRICK WOOD v. CLUB, LLC, et al., SC 18978

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk


      Premises Liability; Whether Trial Court Properly Permitted Plaintiff's Security Expert to Testify; Whether Trial Court's Instruction on Proximate Cause was Proper.  One evening in 2007, the plaintiff attended a birthday party at a nightclub that was owned by the named defendant.  A specific area of the nightclub had been reserved for the party for two hours.  At the end of the two hour period, a group of male patrons who had not been invited to the party entered the designated area and attempted to dance with several of the female guests in a provocative manner.  As a result of their behavior, many of the women became visibly uncomfortable, and at least one of them lodged a complaint with a nightclub employee.  One of the male patrons subsequently hit the plaintiff over the head with a glass bottle after the plaintiff had stepped in between his girlfriend and the male patron.  The plaintiff later brought this action, alleging that the defendant negligently and recklessly failed to properly supervise the nightclub.  After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court should have prohibited the plaintiff's bar security expert, Kevin DePalma, from testifying because he lacked the necessary qualifications.  It also maintained that the court improperly failed to instruct the jury that in order to impose a duty upon the defendant to take reasonable steps to protect the plaintiff from the criminal act of a third person, the plaintiff was required to prove that the defendant had notice of the risk and that the defendant's conduct placed the plaintiff within the scope of the risk.  As a result of the court's failure to give that instruction, the defendant contended, the jury was prevented from engaging in the proximate cause analysis of whether the assault was of the same general nature as the foreseeable risk that was created by the defendant's alleged negligence in failing to take immediate action when the male patrons began to harass the female partygoers.  The Appellate Court (134 Conn. App. 768) rejected the defendant's claims.  It determined that DePalma had knowledge of the field of bar security that was not common to the average person and that his testimony was helpful to the jury in evaluating the defendant's security protocols.  The court explained that DePalma had worked at a bar in the field of security for several years and that he typically worked when the bar was at its busiest.  It also emphasized that DePalma acquired a general knowledge of the field of bar security through his employment and his conversations with fellow members of his profession.  It further opined that, in light of DePalma's vocational experience, it was irrelevant that he had no formal education or license in the field of bar security.  With regard to the defendant's instructional claim, the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court's instructions, when viewed as a whole, adequately conveyed to the jury all of the legal principles necessary for a determination of the proximate cause issue, including the issue of whether the assault was a foreseeable result of the defendant's failure to intervene when the male patrons began to harass the female guests.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's conclusions were proper.