Civil Law Implications of the Alabama Riverboat Brawl

Civil Law Implications of the Alabama Riverboat Brawl

You probably saw the news and social media coverage about the free-for-all that erupted at the Montgomery, Alabama, Riverfront dock on August 5, 2023. Unfortunately, random violence like this sometimes injures innocent people. 

If you are the victim of intentional harm or an attack such as what happened on the Montgomery dock, you may bring a legal claim for compensation. Talk to a personal injury lawyer who has experience in these types of cases to learn if you have a viable claim and what you can expect to recover from the responsible parties.

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What Happened on the Alabama Dock?

Civil Law Implications of the Alabama Riverboat Brawl

In a potentially racially motivated attack, a Black riverfront dock employee asked some boaters to move their pontoon to allow a city-owned dinner cruise riverboat to dock in its designated spot. The white boaters refused to move, so the employee untied the pontoon to move it aside and allow room for the dinner cruise boat to dock.

The boaters attacked the dockworker while several dinner cruisers watched and recorded the entire event from the riverboat as it waited to dock. A worker on the cruise boat dove into the water and swam to the dock to help his fallen co-worker. When the cruise boat finally docked, more boat workers ran off the cruise and began fighting with the pontoon boaters. The melee injured numerous people and local police arrested many alleged participants.

Most of the players in the clash on the Montgomery dockside were willing participants in the violent situation. As a result, they probably do not have the right to bring civil claims against other combatants. However, the initial dock worker who the boaters attacked could be considered a crime victim and a tort victim with the legal right to bring civil claims for his injuries. 

In this article we’ll review the situation from the dock worker’s perspective and also look at potential legal rights of an innocent bystander after an intentional tort situation. Keep in mind that every situation is different and every state has different laws that may apply. To fully understand your legal rights and the potential action you may take, talk to a personal injury attorney who is familiar with these cases.

Do Injured Workers Have the Right to Bring Workers’ Compensation Claims?

In general, most employees injured on the job can bring a claim for benefits against their employers’ workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Workers’ comp benefits may only cover medical bills and lost income. To receive these benefits, the employee does not have to prove any fault by the employer.

Can Injured Workers File a Civil Lawsuit Directly Against an Attacker?

An employee who was attacked by an outsider (non-employee) while working cannot sue their employer for the third party’s acts. However, they might have the basis for a third-party civil lawsuit in addition to seeking workers’ comp benefits.

For example, in the Alabama dock worker’s situation, he might bring both legal claims — a workers’ comp claim and a third-party claim against the people who attacked and injured him to recover medical bills and other expenses not paid by his employer’s workers’ comp coverage.

In his third-party claim, he could request compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and punitive damages. (Not all states allow punitive damage claims in civil cases, but Alabama does.)

Unlike a workers’ comp claim, where fault is not an issue, to prevail in a third-party complaint, an injured plaintiff must prove fault by the third party defendant—either negligence or an intentional act—to recover damages. In these cases, damages may include mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of relationships or life enjoyment, depending on state laws.

What Is an Intentional Tort Claim and Who Can Bring One?

A tort is “an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.” Most people are familiar with personal injury lawsuits where a person acts carelessly or accidentally and harms someone else. For example, most car accidents and slip and fall cases qualify as civil negligence torts.

However, if someone purposely harms another person, that is an intentional tort. Battery is one of the most common intentional torts. If an intentional action results in someone’s death, the family or personal representative of the estate can file an intentional wrongful death claim.

Returning to our injured Alabama dock worker, because the angry crowd intentionally attacked him and apparently caused him bodily harm, he probably has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against his attackers for the intentional torts of assault and battery.

The laws of each state may include different requirements to prove a claim of intentional tort.

In general, to successfully file an intentional tort lawsuit, the injured plaintiff must prove:

  • The defendant acted in a harmful or offensive way
  • The defendant’s action was intentional
  • The action harmed the plaintiff

In other words, the defendant must have acted willfully in a harmful way that injured the plaintiff. The injured plaintiff must also prove that they sustained injuries and the related losses can be financially compensated.

What if Multiple People Are at Fault?

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Depending on the circumstances and the state where the intentional tort occurred, the injured plaintiff may collect damages from multiple defendants. In most states, a negligent defendant must only pay their share of the plaintiff’s damages regardless of how many parties caused the plaintiff’s injuries and losses. This is known as several liability. 

But what about our dock worker’s situation, where several people intentionally struck and injured him? In states that have enacted joint and several liability rules, when multiple people commit an intentional tort against a plaintiff, the plaintiff can hold each person liable for the entire amount of their damages. The plaintiff cannot recover double the amount of damages, so the defendants must sort out how much each should pay.

At this time, only seven states have pure joint and several liability laws, while other states have different versions of liability in intentional tort cases. To fully understand your legal rights and potential options, speak with a qualified personal injury attorney who can assess your unique circumstances.

What Is the Difference Between Intentional Torts and Criminal Acts?

Some intentional torts are also crimes. For example, battery, assault, and theft are both civil torts and crimes. There are three important differences between criminal and civil cases:

Who Brings the Case

Government representatives such as state or federal prosecutors decide whether to bring a criminal charge and what the charge should be. The prosecutor handles the case through trial and negotiates any plea agreement. 

In a civil case, the injured plaintiff brings a claim directly against the person or entity that committed the intentional tort that caused the plaintiff’s injuries and financial losses.

Possible Trial Outcomes

Criminal convictions or plea bargains may involve fines, jail or prison time, probation, or other results to punish the wrongdoer and protect the public welfare. Each crime has specific guidelines under state law that the court must follow. The primary goal does not focus on restitution for the victim.

Civil trial verdicts or settlements only involve financial payments, not personal freedom consequences. Unless the court allows punitive damages to punish the person who harmed the plaintiff, a civil lawsuit seeks financial restitution and compensation for the plaintiff, not punishment.

The Burden of Proof

Criminal cases have a more difficult burden of proof than civil cases. To find someone guilty of a crime, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In civil cases, the plaintiff must only prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence to hold a defendant liable for paying damages. In other words, the plaintiff need only prove that the defendant’s actions more likely than not caused the injuries, so the defendant must pay for the plaintiff’s losses.

If one injury situation leads to both criminal and civil cases, the outcome of the criminal trial will not necessarily affect the civil lawsuit, and vice-versa. For example, if a prosecutor refuses to file criminal charges for an assault or a court finds the defendant not guilty, the injured person may still bring a successful civil claim.

Consult a skilled injury lawyer who can guide you through the legal process and help you recover the compensation you deserve.

What Is a Negligent Security Claim?

Plaintiffs file these civil lawsuits against property owners when someone sustains a foreseeable injury due to inadequate security measures on the property. These cases usually involve assault, battery, robbery, sex crimes, and even wrongful death situations. The injured plaintiff must prove the property owner owed a duty of care to protect them while on the property. 

Usually, these cases require proof of a history of criminal activity on the premises and it was reasonable to believe another injury could happen there again without adequate security measures.

Again, the legal requirements vary by state, but to prove a negligent security claim, a plaintiff must show the:

  • Defendant had a legal duty to provide sufficient security at the property in question
  • Defendant did not provide reasonable security
  • Inadequate security measures provided by the defendant contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

What Are the Potential Drawbacks of These Cases?

First, since every situation is unique, always consult a qualified personal injury attorney in the state where your injuries occurred before you make any decisions. Your legal options will vary by jurisdiction and circumstances.

Meanwhile, here are a few issues to consider that may affect your potential claim.

  • Workers’ compensation claims only provide benefits for medical bills and lost income. You cannot recover pain and suffering or mental anguish if you choose to only file a workers’ comp claim.
  • Insurance rarely covers intentional actions, so if someone intentionally injures you, your only source of compensation will come directly from the responsible party. If that party does not have sufficient funds to pay your losses, a lawsuit may waste your time.
  • In civil cases, the only outcome is financial compensation, not jail time or other physical penalties. Only a few states allow injured plaintiffs to request punitive damages, so check with a local lawyer who knows the laws that apply to your situation. 
  • Without a history of prior criminal or violent activity where someone injured you, the property owner may bear liability for your losses.

Reach Out to Our Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers to Learn More

Gabriel Levin Lawyer for Personal Injury Claim Cases near Philadelphia
Gabriel Levin, Motorcycle Accident Attorney

As you can see from this analysis of the Alabama Riverboat Dockside Brawl, don’t wonder whether you have a legal claim or which type of case you may bring after one of these complicated legal situations. If someone intentionally harmed you, meet with a dedicated personal injury attorney to learn your rights.

Contact our skilled team of legal professionals for your free consultation today.

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Gabriel Levin - Attorney

Gabriel Levin is a highly experienced and credible attorney with over 10 years of practice in Pennsylvania. Known for his tenacity, he has represented clients in a wide range of civil matters, trying hundreds of cases. He prepares each case as if it will go to trial, ensuring meticulous attention to detail.

Unlike many firms that delegate tasks, Levin personally handles every aspect of a case and maintains open communication with clients throughout. He has secured millions in compensation, making him a reliable choice for those seeking legal representation.

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