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Bencivenga v. J.J.A.M.M., Inc.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division
609 A.2d 1299 (1992)


Facts

J.J.A.M.M., Inc., d/b/a Club 35 (Club 35) (defendant), owned a nightclub with a dance floor. Ralph Bencivenga (plaintiff), his brother, and three friends went to Club 35 on January 9, 1988. Four bouncers were situated so as to have full visibility of the floor. In addition to overhead lighting, the club had a strobe light that was rarely used and could only be activated by employees through a locked door. While Bencivenga and his companions were socializing, a woman patron talking to one of the bouncers was pinched on her behind by a man passing by. The woman accused Bencivenga of pinching her, which he denied. Later, the woman again accused Bencivenga. The bouncer suggested that they leave. Bencivenga and his companions went to the dance floor. A few minutes later, the strobe light was turned on making it difficult to see. Four men crossed the dance floor, pushing people aside. One of the men accused Bencivenga of pinching his girlfriend. The man then struck him, breaking his nose. None of the bouncers intervened, either before or after Bencivenga was struck. Instead of contacting medical help or the police, the club manager Melvin Meszaros (defendant) and bouncers escorted Bencivenga and his companions outside. When they asked why Bencivenga’s assailant had not also been removed from the club, a bouncer replied that the assailant had “juice.” The assault resulted in Bencivenga needing surgery and suffering permanent damage. He sued Club 35, Meszaros, and various unidentified persons: the “John Doe” who had assaulted him and the bouncers who had not intervened. At trial, Club 35 asked the court to instruct the jurors to apportion liability by comparing the negligence of Club 35, Bencivenga, and the assailant “John Doe.” The court declined to give that instruction. The jury found Club 35 liable for failing to protect Bencivenga from the assault. Club 35 appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (Muir, Jr., J.)

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