Chicago Hot Dog Stand Potentially Liable for Customer’s Injuries Caused by Rowdy Atmosphere

Wieners CircleWhen you patronize a business, you probably have a reasonable estimation of which types of risks do and don’t await you. The law says that business owners must protect you against certain risks of harm, but only those risks that are reasonably foreseeable and would not require unreasonably burdensome steps to prevent. In the case of one famous Chicago eatery known for its wild and often belligerent late-night antics, the First District Appellate Court revived a customer’s lawsuit against the establishment, concluding that the restaurant’s “schtick” had an elevated risk of harm and that the owners did not reasonably act to safeguard customers.

The customer was Leah Libolt, who was visiting Chicago in October 2011 and, on one Saturday night, decided to take in some of the local scene, including bars and, at around 2:00 a.m., a Lincoln Park hot dog stand called The Weiner’s Circle. Unbeknownst to Libolt, the eatery was famous, or perhaps infamous, for its ambiance late at night on the weekends. The staff and patrons routinely exchanged vulgarities and verbal barbs, which fostered a very raucous atmosphere. Estimates indicated that three-quarters of the patrons at that hour on a Saturday were drunk.

On the night that Libolt was there, a very drunk man and a restaurant worker had a boisterous exchange, with the employee threatening to pepper spray the man and also brandishing a wire brush. Somewhere in the melee, another customer collided with that man, causing him to crash into Libolt. The incident left Libolt with a broken elbow and wrist.

Libolt sued the eatery, alleging that it was negligent in multiple ways. The eatery should have done more to protect customers, should not have encouraged employees to antagonize drunken customers, and should have warned customers about the elevated level of danger.

The trial court sided with the eatery, awarding summary judgment in its favor, but the customer won a reversal of that decision on appeal. The appeals court noted that, if you are seeking to succeed in a negligence claim against a property owner or another “possessor of land” for the injuries you suffer there, you must pass the law’s four-part test. The parts include:  “(1) the reasonable foreseeability of the injury, (2) the likelihood of the injury, (3) the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury, and (4) the consequences of placing that burden on the defendant.”

In this case, part of The Weiner’s Circle’s marketing “schtick” was to hold itself out as a place where intoxicated people could come late at night and engage in intense exchanges of vulgarities and threats, including the staff’s brandishing wooden spoons and wire grill brushes. This schtick clearly created an elevated foreseeability and likelihood that the verbal volleys would become physical, and an injury would result. Guarding against this risk of injury was a low burden upon the eatery, since it could have guarded against injury simply by posting signs, hiring a security guard, or training employees not to instigate drunken customers past a certain point. Given the simplicity of these remedial measures, the consequence of putting the burden on the eatery was also low. All of this meant that, under these circumstances, Libolt’s case satisfied the Illinois law’s four-part test, and she should have been allowed to proceed against the eatery and go to trial.

When you’ve been injured due to another person or entity’s negligence, you need experienced injury counsel on your side who knows the law and how to develop a winning case. The experienced Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have been representing injured people for many years and are ready to help you with your case. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

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Injured Illinois Worker Fights Back Against Defense’s Failure to Disclose Insurance Policy Limit, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Dec. 23, 2016

Flying the Unfriendly Skies, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Aug. 18, 2016

Photo credit: Victorgrigas at Wikimedia Commons.