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Russell Brown v. Gunchie's

May 15, 2013

RUSSELL BROWN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GUNCHIE'S, INC., A CORPORATION D/B/A GUNCHIE'S, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, John D. Telleen, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bower, J.

Gunchie's, Inc. appeals from the judgment entered in favor of Russell Brown on his dramshop and negligence claims. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

Russell Brown was injured in an altercation at Gunchie's, Inc. (Gunchie's) and brought suit against the business, alleging it was liable for his injuries under dramshop and negligence theories. A jury found in favor of Brown on both the dramshop and negligence claims, and judgment was entered against Gunchie's. On appeal, Gunchie's contends a directed verdict should have been granted on the dramshop claim because Brown failed to prove the intoxicated party caused his damages. It also contends Brown failed to establish Gunchie's was negligent.

We find sufficient evidence to generate a jury question on both claims. There is substantial evidence that Siem, a customer, was the proximate cause of Brown's injuries. Substantial evidence also shows Gunchie's failed to adequately and properly train its employees, and that this failure was the proximate cause of Brown's injuries. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Russell Brown and Diana Hardin had been dating on and off for more than ten years and were "on" again in February 2010 when Brown was injured in an altercation that occurred at Gunchie's. Diana was a bartender at Gunchie's and was on duty when Brown arrived at the bar between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. Also present at the bar was Jimmy Siem, a regular patron of Gunchie's who had dated Diana in the fall of 2009. With Siem was Brad Dalton.

Brown and Diana appeared to be having an argument, so Dalton called Diana's brother, Les Hardin. Les arrived at the bar and asked Brown to leave.

While there are discrepancies in the testimony as to what happened next, it is undisputed that Les punched Brown in the jaw, causing Brown to fall to the floor. At that time, Siem charged Brown and began punching him repeatedly.

Tina Gonzalez was a customer at Gunchie's that night. Upon exiting the bathroom, she witnessed the fight, which was already in progress. Gonzalez saw Brown lying on the ground and watched as Siem hit him in the face three or four times while Les and Diana stood by. Brown was not fighting back. Gonzalez then intervened to stop the fight.

Brown suffered multiple facial fractures as a result of the altercation, including fractures of the eye sockets, the nose, and upper jaw. Dr. James Paul, who treated Brown, testified that Brown's upper jaw, which encompasses the upper teeth, was completely separated from the rest of his skull. Brown underwent two surgeries to address his injuries.

Brown filed a petition against Gunchie's alleging dramshop liability and negligence. The case proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of Brown's evidence, Gunchie's moved for a directed verdict. Because there was insufficient evidence that Les Hardin was served alcohol beverages at Gunchie's or was intoxicated on the night in question, the district court granted a directed verdict on the dramshop count related to Les Hardin's intoxication. It also granted a directed verdict in favor of Gunchie's on three of Brown's specifications of negligence. The case was submitted to the jury on the question of dramshop liability with respect to Siem, and on two claims of negligence: (1) failure to remove or have the police remove Les Hardin and Siem from the premises and (2) failure to adequately and properly train its employees.

The jury found in favor of Brown on both his dramshop and negligence claims. It awarded Brown $127,915 in damages; $41,715 in past medical expenses, $85,000 for past pain and suffering, and $1200 for lost wages. With respect to the negligence claim, the jury found Brown was five percent at fault, reducing Brown's damages on that claim to $121,519.25. However, because Brown is only entitled to a single recovery for his damages and ...


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