Monte Friere v. U.S.S. Chowder Pot III, Ltd., et al.: A man who was stabbed in the neck at a Branford bar and nearly bled to death has collected $4.3 million after a New Haven jury decided that a bartender could have prevented the attack.
Monte Friere, 45, of Nashua, N.H., was visiting the Branford area on October 2, 2010 to participate in a softball tournament. Friere is also a former kick boxer who has competed worldwide.
According to Friere's lawyer, Timothy Pothin, of Stratton Faxon in New Haven, Friere and six or seven of his softball teammates were at the U.S.S. Chowder Pot III restaurant at about 10:45 p.m.
Another bar patron, John Mayor, began making derogatory comments to Friere and his friends about their New England accents and the Boston Red Sox. The man, initially reported to be a New York Yankees fan but later found to be someone with minimal interest in sports, assumed Friere and his friends were Sox fans simply from the accents. In reality, Pothin said, Mayor was simply looking for a fight, and that the obnoxious comments escalated far beyond any baseball talk.
"That was the beginning of his persistent, disorderly, obnoxious behavior which included a number of remarks to the group," said Pothin. "That prompted them to warn the bartender that this guy was trying to start trouble with them."
Pothin said despite the complaints, the bartender never approached Mayor or did anything else to diffuse the situation. The man continued interjecting himself in the group's conversations, provoking a small shoving incident.
For a second time, Pothin said, the softball players complained to the bartender. But again, no bar employee said anything to Mayor about his behavior. Finally Friere approached Mayor at the bar and asked him what his problem was. Mayor replied by stabbing Friere in the neck with a knife.
Pothin said Friere began bleeding profusely and went outside. His friends tried applying pressure to the wound before paramedics arrived. His friends also went after Mayor, who suffered some scrapes and bruises before a police officer arrested him.
Friere was rushed to the hospital with a severed external carotid artery and jugular vein. The knife also penetrated his larynx, severed the right vertebral artery and punctured bone. "Monte nearly bled to death, but his life was saved by trauma surgeons at Yale-New Haven Hospital," said Pothin. Friere suffered an ischemic stroke and hypoxic brain injury; both conditions are caused when the brain is deprived of oxygen-carrying blood.
Pothin said Friere spent a couple months in the hospital. The oxygen deprivation left him with brain damage and permanent physical impairments, including weakness in his body in general, and to his right upper extremities in particular. He also claims post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic attacks and anxiety. There is also scarring on his neck.
Pothin said his client is back working as a groundskeeper in New Hampshire but does his job at a much slower pace than before. Friere is at an elevated risk of seizures in the future due to the ischemic stroke, said Pothin.
Mayor, meanwhile, was charged criminally and convicted in August 2012 of first-degree assault, a class B felony. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, suspended after 10 years, followed by three years of probation.
Pothin filed a lawsuit against the restaurant for negligent supervision. The initial suit included a dram shop claim, accusing the restaurant of continuing to serve Mayor when he was visibly drunk. But the claim was later dropped after Pothin decided it would be difficult to meet the visible intoxication standard.
Because Mayor is in prison, and has very little in the way of assets, there was no point in naming him as a defendant.
"The stabbing could've been prevented, but the bartender chose not to intervene in any way to diffuse an apparently escalating conflict," said Pothin. "Nobody at the Chowder Pot even spoke to Mr. Mayor about his behavior… The bartender was out in the back having a cigarette when the stabbing occurred."
Jan Trendowski of Centerbrook's Trendowski & Allen, represented the Chowder Pot. Trendowski said after the bartender was told about the abusive customer, Mayor got up, went to the restroom and then sat in a different area of the bar when he came back. At that point, said Trendowski, the bartender believed the tensions were waning.
Trendowski said no one could have predicted the stabbing. "There wasn't a person in the room that could tell you why it happened," said Trendowski.
Pothin said the defense made no offer to settle the lawsuit, so the case proceeded to trial last month before Judge Robert Young in New Haven Superior Court. Jury selection took about a week. Evidence presentation took another week.
Seventeen witnesses testified in total at the trial, 13 for the plaintiff. Pothin said the bartender testified and admitted he had been warned by the group of guys that Mayor was trying to start a fight with them. Further, Pothin said a Chowder Pot manager testified that it is restaurant policy for workers to notify a manager of behavior that might escalate into a fight.
Pothin did not disclose the name of the bartender, who now is employed as a nurse and works only part time at the bar. "By all accounts he was a good employee and he just made a mistake that night," said Pothin.
The jury, after deliberating for just under three hours awarded Friere $4,326,556. Pothin said $3.5 million of that amount was for non-economic damages. "We're very grateful the jury was attentive and understood our case and held the Chowder Pot accountable for the egregious negligence of its employee," said Pothin.
Trendowski plans to appeal the jury's decision. He does not agree that simply because a bar or restaurant has been notified of a dispute between customers that it should then incur liability for an unexpected stabbing.•