In the winter of 2017, sometime in the buttery zone between late night and early morning, Michael Ingman was having a bad time at the Gay 90's, and it was about to get much, much worse.
According to a complaint against the Minneapolis bar filed in July, employees should have caught on that things were about to get ugly. That night, an “unknown” person had been “aggressive, verbally abusive, and violent” with Ingman for about 20 minutes.
It didn’t say who she was or what she was doing to him. Ingman’s lawyer, Nate Bjerke, says the injuries Michael sustained make it difficult to remember exactly what happened, but security footage shows the attacker and her friends approaching and yelling at him, plus some pushing, shoving, and punching.
Things then came to a quick and nasty head when this “unknown assaulter” allegedly stabbed Ingman in the eye.
The complaint didn’t say with what. It did say that Ingman sustained permanent injuries to his eye, brain, and “surrounding structures.” Bjerke says the wounds looked like they might have come from a broken bottle or glass.
Now, Ingman is suing the bar for failing to protect him.
A manager at the bar declined to comment on the incident or the suit, but the ball is in the bar’s court. The language in the complaint isn’t mincing any words about whose fault Ingman thinks this is.
“Despite knowledge of the unknown assaulter’s aggressive, verbally abusive, and violent behavior,” it says, the workers “and/or managers” “failed to take any action to prevent” it.
Ingman is seeking $50,000 for his medical bills, and his physical and mental pain.
Whether or not that's going to work is a different story. John Dornik, who teaches personal injury law at the University of Minnesota, says winning this case relies on two important details: whether the incident was foreseeable, and whether Ingman and the Gay 90's have a "special relationship."
"In Minnesota, you don't have a duty to protect people from others," Dornik says. Unless your relationship with that person is "special." Say, that person is your daughter, or your wife.
Bars do not typically have an absolute duty to protect patrons, but if the Gay 90's is being treated like an "innkeeper" under the law -- which gives this whole thing a kind of fun, Renaissance-y twist -- there just might be a case. That is, as long as this stabbing incident was "foreseeable."
You're not at all obligated to prevent a stabbing you never knew was coming, Dornik says. If Ingman's attacker started tossing a knife from hand to hand and said something about stabbing him before she did it, that might be something. If she simply took off her shoe and jammed it into Ingman's eye apropos of nothing at all, that's another story.
Unless Ingman can prove the bar was obligated to protect him and could see that stabbing coming a mile away, he probably can't win.
Honestly, Dornik says: "It's going to be a tough case."