FARGO — It’s been more than three years since James Grant was hit with a fatal punch outside the HoDo Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Fargo, but a legal battle continues over whether the business and Darren Scott Patterson, who was sent to prison in connection to Grant’s death, should be held financially liable for the incident.
Patterson, now 46, and the HoDo, owned by the Hotel Donaldson LLC, are scheduled to go to trial Aug. 3 to face two separate but consolidated lawsuits brought last year by Grant’s wife, Jenny, and his friend, Christopher Sang. The plaintiffs claim the defendants should pay more than $50,000 in each suit for damages from Grant’s death and permanent injuries to Sang during an altercation outside the HoDo in late May 2017.
That would include expenses for Grant’s funeral, Sang’s medical bills, lost income and benefits, mental anguish and emotional distress.
Court documents state Patterson, James and Jenny Grant, Sang and others were in the HoDo on the night of May 27, 2017, when Patterson and other bar patrons "engaged in a protracted period of loud and hostile verbal exchanges." The verbal confrontation escalated into a physical fight that included Patterson, Sang and James Grant, court documents said.
Eventually, bar staff asked Patterson, James Grant, Sang and his brother, Jeff, to leave. Shortly after, Patterson saw James Grant, walked up to him and punched him without provocation or cause, Jenny Grant said in her complaint. He also hit Sang, causing loss of consciousness, extreme pain, a brain injury and eventual loss of smell and taste, Sang said in his complaint.
James Grant died nine days later, resulting in Patterson being charged with felony manslaughter, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor simple assault.
Patterson eventually pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and entered an Alford plea on the aggravated assault charge, meaning he maintained his innocence but agreed there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty in criminal court. He was released in November after serving 15 months in prison.
Patterson denied in court documents that he is financially responsible for Grant's death or Sang's injuries. He admitted in an answer to the complaints that criminal charges and his pleas are on record, but he said those are irrelevant to the case.
Patterson blamed the HoDo in cross-claim filings, alleging it failed to keep order in the bar and continued to serve James Grant and Sang despite the two men allegedly being intoxicated. Patterson also said he was attacked in the bar by James Grant, Sang and others without reason, according to the answer.
Last month, Sang settled his claims against Patterson out of court. In a Sept. 14 order, Judge John Irby, who is overseeing both cases, dismissed Sang's case against Patterson, as well as Patterson's cross-claim against the HoDo.
Sang’s attorney, Robert Hoy, said the agreement included a confidentiality clause, meaning the terms of the settlement can’t be disclosed to the public. Citing the pending nature of the case, Hoy declined to comment.
Still, Jenny Grant’s claims against the HoDo and Patterson remain, as do Sang’s against the business. The plaintiffs said the HoDo failed to de-escalate the situation. Jenny Grant's complaint said the combination of the HoDo's and Patterson's actions caused her husband's death.
"It was foreseeable that harm would be caused by evicting all of the parties who had earlier been involved in the altercation inside of the bar at the same time and in close proximity" of the HoDo, a complaint from the plaintiffs said.
The Hodo said it asked Patterson, Sang and the Grants to leave for the safety of other patrons but denied in court filings being responsible for injuries caused in the incident. The HoDo said the "injuries, death and damages alleged … were perpetrated by a criminal act outside the premises of the Hotel Donaldson …" and the business is not legally responsible in the case.
Attorneys are still investigating evidence in the case, said Daniel Dunn, who is representing Jenny Grant in the civil suit.
Attorneys for the HoDo and Patterson did not return messages left by The Forum. A pretrial hearing is set for July 12.