Club Vinyl lawsuit: Can venues be held liable for the actions of their bouncers?
Six years ago, Janny Barizonte, a 24-year-old law student, headed with friends to Club Vinyl looking for fun. What she got instead changed her life, and not for the better: a painful altercation with club security personnel, followed by an arrest, a violent assault by a sheriff's deputy, a criminal trial -- and finally, a costly civil suit that demonstrates how difficult it can be to hold Colorado nightclub operators accountable for the actions of security teams that bill themselves as independent contractors.
Barizonte and a female friend were arrested and charged with assaulting Darryl Honor and Malia Calip, who worked for a security company called LDH Protective Services. Acquitted at trial of all charges, Barizonte eventually persuaded a Denver jury to award more than $60,000 in damages in her favor against Honor and Calip for the injuries she suffered that night.
But that judgment may be uncollectable, her lawyer says, because LDH has no insurance -- and Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled that Vinyl can't be held liable for Honor's and Calip's actions. Rappaport also ordered Barizonte to pay Vinyl's parent company more than $27,000 in attorney fees and costs, after first denying that request.
The outside of Vinyl.
The trial outcome was recently upheld by a three-judge panel from the Colorado Court of Appeals, which declined to address a central question of Barizonte's appeal -- whether Rappaport erred in ruling that Honor and Calip were independent contractors.
"I was absolutely stunned by the opinion," says Ron Beeks, Barizonte's attorney. "This allows a club to hire bouncers without investigating them -- and not even require them to have insurance. It allows the club to walk away from any assaults they may commit and leaves the plaintiff with a worthless judgment against the bouncers."
The Cuban-born Barizonte was in her first year of law school at the University of Denver when she visited Vinyl on a Halloween weekend in 2007 -- and began her real education in American criminal and tort law. She was accompanied by her boyfriend, an Air Force Academy cadet, and two female friends. She says she was in the club less than half an hour and had consumed only one beer when the trouble began.
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