PHILADELPHIA — In October, a Philadelphia court granted a man who was physically attacked at a local tavern on St. Patrick's Day $80,000 in damages in a case that featured missing video surveillance of the incident.
In 2012, Timothy St. Clair was looking for his brother in the Misconduct Tavern in Philadelphia when a patron of the bar confronted St. Clair and struck him in the face, knocking him unconscious on the spot.
St. Clair, a scientist in his mid-30s, claimed to have found his brother in the tavern being harassed by three men, and when St. Clair stepped forward to intervene, one of the men punched him in the face, sending him to the emergency room, where he woke up with a concussion, a fractured nose, and a deviated septum.
St. Clair required reconstructive surgery and was forced to take time off work.
St. Clair's attorney contacted the Misconduct Tavern shortly after the incident, attempting to ensure that video surveillance footage would be preserved.
The tavern complied but then soon allegedly ceased communication with the plaintiff. Despite confirmation from the tavern that the footage existed, the defendant later claimed it had been discarded. Consequently, the individual who struck St. Clair was never identified.
“The bar owner confirmed that they received my letters, that the video tape was in existence when they got my letter, that the video tape would have showed the incident, that the video tape would have showed how much the assailant had to drink, and they did not preserve the video tape,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Keith McWhirk of Mandracchia and McWhirk, LLC.
The plaintiff then filed charges against the bar, claiming it had been negligent in over-serving the patron who had attacked him. In addition, the Misconduct Tavern was further charged with failing to provide employees with adequate alcohol-service training.
At the time, St. Clair was only seeking damages for an outstanding medical cost from his surgery and damages for physical pain that resulted from the attack.
The defendants argued in court that there was no substantial evidence to identify the assailant or prove that the bar was responsible for over-serving. However, due to the precautionary steps that the plaintiff and his counsel took before the trial, they were granted adverse inference in the case in lieu of the video evidence.
“Because we had notified the bar owner of the accident and the need for the video (in fact one of the owners had pointed out the video cameras to my client’s friend at the time of the incident), the court found that we were entitled to a negative inference that the lost video tape footage would show that the assailant was visibly intoxicated at the time of the incident and was served alcohol while visibly intoxicated,” McWhirk said.
As to what actually happened to the footage, McWhirk does not knowr. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, allowing $80,000 in damages from the defendant.
According to McWhirk, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial and expects an eventual appeal depending on the outcome of the motion. McWhirk has also filed for delay damages.