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A San Diego jury has awarded more than $860,000 to a 32-year-old security guard who was seriously hurt in a Hooters corporate Christmas party brawl that began after the guard was head-butted by an unruly guest. Although the jury found the guest, Robert Womack, and the party-throwing Hooters franchisee negligent, only Womack was found to have hurt the guard, Evan Johnson. Womack is solely liable for all damages. The party was thrown by Hooters’ Mission Valley, Calif., restaurant at the Clarion Hotel in San Diego on Dec. 19, 2000. Johnson was working there that night as a security guard. Womack had been invited to the party by a Hooters employee. Later that night, Johnson asked Womack to leave because of his behavior. The guard claimed that Womack then head-butted him and a melee involving other partygoers ensued. During the fight, Johnson suffered permanent physical and neurological injuries that have kept him from returning to work. He sued Womack, Hooters of America Inc. (the national corporate franchiser) and Hoot Winc LLC, the franchisee for Hooters of Mission Valley. Hooters of America was dismissed from the case before trial when discovery established that they were not a proper party. Johnson’s lawyers, Steven Victor and Anthony Kalikas of San Diego, said that Hoot Winc knew or should have known about Womack’s dangerous propensities but failed to take preventative action. They also argued that Hooters let the party get out of hand and that some of its employees may have contributed to Johnson’s injuries in the brawl. Hoot Winc’s attorney, Barry Vrevich of San Diego’s Maxie Rheinheimer Stephens & Vrevich, denied that his client had any prior notice that Womack had violent tendencies. Acknowledging that the jury had, by an 11-1 vote, found his client negligent, he added, “We got by on causation.” The jury decided that the negligence was not a substantial contributing factor to Johnson’s injuries. “That’s about as close as it gets for us,” Vrevich said. Womack, who represented himself, said that he did not go to the party with the intent to hurt anyone and that he was not prone to violence.

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