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Question of HoDo's liability for fatal punch is in jury's hands

A verdict hadn’t been reached as of Tuesday evening, so deliberations will pick up Wednesday morning.

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Darren Patterson served 15 months in prison for fatally punching a man outside the Hotel Donaldson in 2017. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — Jurors are deliberating whether the Hotel Donaldson should be held financially responsible for a fatal attack outside its doors moments after it kicked out several patrons who fought inside the downtown Fargo bar.

Attorneys gave their final arguments Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 10, in Cass County District Court on the sixth day of a trial for a lawsuit against the HoDo. A verdict hadn’t been reached as of Tuesday evening, so deliberations will pick up Wednesday morning.

Plaintiffs argue the actions to kick out Darren Patterson and Jamie Grant, Christopher Sang and Grant's brother, Jeff, out of the bar contributed to a chain of events on May 27, 2017, that led to Patterson punching Jamie Grant and Sang outside.

Jamie Grant died nine days later. Sang lost his memory of the night, as well as his senses of smell and taste.

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Jamie Grant

"The bottom line is the HoDo breached their standard of reasonable care to protect the Grant group from Patterson," Sang's lawyer Robert Hoy said in closing arguments.

Sang and Jamie Grant's wife, Jennifer, are suing the HoDo. They claim the bar did not have policy that stated how to handle bar altercations, nor did it properly train staff to do so.

Experts for the plaintiffs also explained that the HoDo should have let the Grant group stay inside the bar and either waited for the police staff called to arrive or for the ejected Patterson to leave the area.

Elizabeth Dumbaugh, a partner with THG Consultants based in Sarasota, Fla., testified during the trial that there is no written industry standard suggesting that bars should allow a party to stay inside a building and wait for an ejected “aggressor” to leave the area. The security consultant hired by HoDo attorney John Hughes told jurors that industry standards of care tell bars to have broad policies to handle altercations.

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Security consultant Elizabeth Dumbaugh testifies Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during a civil trial against the Hotel Donaldson in district court, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

That way, employees have discretion in reacting to incidents with varying circumstances, Dumbaugh said. She said the HoDo acted reasonably in kicking both Patterson and the Grant group out.

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“You don’t want it to be so narrow that they can’t actually make a good decision during the event,” she said.

The altercation inside the bar started after the Grant group directed profanities at Patterson, who then got up and twisted Jamie Grant’s arm, Dumbaugh testified. Some HoDo staff said Patterson was clearly the “aggressor,” but video evidence makes it hard to determine who the aggressor was, Dumbaugh added.

Patterson left out the west door after being asked by staff to do so, but Jamie Grant’s brother, Jeff, told staff they didn’t want to leave, fearing Patterson would attack them outside.

The Grant group ultimately left through the south door without confrontation. Moments later, Patterson walked after the group and punched Jamie Grant and Sang.

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Judge John Irby gives instructions to the jury Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, during a civil trial against the Hotel Donaldson in district court, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The HoDo made the right decision in how it de-escalated the situation by using the information they had at the time, Dumbaugh said. They had to consider staff and customer safety, the defense has argued.

Attorneys for the HoDo have argued the bar is not liable for what happens on a public sidewalk. They claimed Patterson was solely responsible for attacking the Grant group, and staff did not play a role in the assault outside.

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The HoDo has hired experienced employees with a wealth of knowledge about the bar and restaurant industry, Hughes said in closing arguments.

"Mr. Patterson made the decision to do what he did on May 27, 2017," Hughes said.

Dispute remains about whether Patterson initially left the area. One expert for the plaintiffs suggested Patterson waited in a dark area across from the HoDo and watched for the Grant group to exit, and another security expert alleged HoDo staff did not watch for Patterson to leave the area.

A former HoDo manager said she saw Patterson walk across Broadway and north away from the HoDo. Patterson testified he came back to retrieve his keys from his wife, who was still inside the HoDo. He also told jurors he looked inside the windows as he walked by the south side of the HoDo.

Patterson said he planned to go back into the south entrance of the HoDo. That would make keeping the Grant group inside the south entryway an unreasonable option, as Patterson could have attacked them there, Dumbaugh said.

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Darren Patterson gives recorded testimony shown Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Cass County District Court during a civil suit trial against the Hotel Donaldson. David Samson / The Forum

Hoy and Jamie Grant's attorney, Daniel Dunn, disputed claims that Patterson intended to go back into the HoDo, noting video shows Patterson walking along the south side of the HoDo without stopping. Some testified he marched down the sidewalk “with purpose.”

Plaintiffs repeated testimony from one HoDo employee that Patterson yelled he wanted to take the fight outside. Hoy said Patterson's testimony was not credible.

"Patterson couldn't be any more clear about what he wanted to do," Hoy said.

Hughes argued there is a limit to what businesses can do, but Hoy said the HoDo put the Grant party in harm's way by forcing them outside where Patterson was waiting.

"You make sure neither party is a danger to the other," Dunn said.

Jamie Grant's death cost about $2.6 million in past and future income, plus more than $125,000 in funeral and medical bills, Dunn argued. He argued that Jennifer Grant's non-economic damages, which would include loss of companionship, mental anguish, emotional distress and grief, should equal between $4.5 million and 7.5 million.

Sang lost about $127,000 in wages and benefits after having to leave his job due to damage caused by the punch, and Hoy argued he deserves between $675,000 and more than $1.1 million for non-economic damages, including loss of memory, taste and smell.

A jury will decide a percentage of fault for Patterson, the HoDo, Jamie Grant and Sang.

Patterson, who served 15 months in prison for the attack, was sued by Sang and Jennifer Grant. However, they settled with each other for an undisclosed amount out of court.

That means the HoDo would only have to pay for the percentage of fault for which it is responsible, minus any fault that would be attributed to Jamie Grant and Sang for the incident. Some testified the Grant group antagonized Patterson before the altercation inside the bar.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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