An Ingham County jury returned a no-cause-of-action verdict in favor of a downtown Lansing bar door man and a bartender on June 23, 2016. The 11-day trial was tried as a wrongful death action. The successful defense of the doorman and bartender was carried out by Gary C. Rogers and Shaina Reed, both of Fraser Trebilcock, and Christian Odlum of Hackney Grover.
Plaintiff's Complaint demanded $5,000,000, alleging that defendants, together with a third, previously defaulted Defendant, were negligent in evicting decedent from the bar, and for participating in a brawl that proceeded from the sidewalk in front of the bar down the street. The alleged brawl occurred in the early morning hours of January 1, 2012. Plaintiff's decedent, a 30 year old male, sustained an 11 cm skull fracture with an impact point behind his right ear and was declared brain dead on January 3, 2012. Plaintiff sought damages for conscious pain and suffering, fright and shock, economic damages relating to medical expenses and funeral costs, as well as loss of society and companionship to the present and the future. The estate consisted of decedent’s father, mother, and three younger siblings.
The jury found the defaulted Defendant 80% liable for the wrongful death, and decedent 20% comparatively negligent for his own death. The jury awarded Plaintiff $378,000 against the defaulted Defendant, which reduced to present value was approximately $200,000.
Testimony suggested that there was a verbal confrontation between the decedent and members of and another group of patrons inside the bar. There was testimony that in response to the confrontation, the defaulted Defendant approached the decedent and his group brandishing a collapsible baton. The decedent and his group were then escorted from the bar without further confrontation. There was testimony that the defaulted Defendant was also either escorted out, or left on his own around the same time.
Once outside the bar, there was an additional verbal confrontation. Defendants presented evidence that the decedent approached and likely head-butted the bartender, which lead to a further altercation. Plaintiff argued that the head-butt never occurred and suggested a cover up by the Defendants. Plaintiff further argued that the Defendants chased after decedent, throwing punches and/or kicks at him as the brawl continued down the street. Plaintiff argued that decedent did nothing to provoke this attack, and that Defendants descended upon decedent and collectively beat him to death. Defendants argued that the altercation was precipitated by the decedent's head-butt to the bartender. The doorman admitted to delivering a single punch to the mouth of decedent after blocking a punch from him. Plaintiff argued that this punch sent decedent to the ground, causing the skull fracture. Defendants argued that this street fight was unforeseeably escalated to a murder by the defaulted Defendant, who independent witnesses observed striking decedent in the head with a baton. Both the doorman and bartender admitted at trial that they were not initially truthful when interviewed by investigating police officers. The defaulted Defendant was convicted of second degree murder prior to the civil trial and is serving a lengthy prison sentence. Plaintiff argued in accordance with the pathologist's autopsy report, that the skull fracture was likely caused by an acceleration/deceleration injury such as falling from a standing height. The treating critical care surgeon testified that of the 9,000 critical care patients he had treated, only 6 had similar skull fractures and none of those were caused by a fall from a standing height.