George Volz was in downtown Baltimore enjoying a rock concert with friends at the Bourbon Street nightclub in November 2009 when he felt a hammer-like blow to the side of the head. Everything suddenly went dark.
Volz hit the floor, unconscious, without seeing the man who hit him, Joseph M. Shanley. But others saw it, and they watched as Shanley reached down, grabbed Volz by the collar and hit him several more times, bloodying his face and breaking his nose, according to the lawsuit Volz filed.
“The third time one of the witnesses said, ‘Hey, stop, the guy’s unconscious, leave him alone,’” Volz’s attorney, Richard Butchok said.
“This wasn’t a bar fight,” Butchok added. “This was an assault.”
A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury deemed the attack a battery and ordered Shanley to pay Volz more than $600,000 in its Sept. 9 verdict. But the jury balked at awarding Volz, 31, millions more from Bourbon Street for the way its bouncers handled him after he was beaten.
According to the original complaint, the bouncers dragged Volz outside, bloody and delirious, to wait for an ambulance. Butchok had argued that constituted a “technical assault,” because it exposed Volz to ridicule even if he was not physically harmed by the bouncers.
The jury denied that claim.
“Although Mr. Volz did sustain injuries at the hands of Mr. Shanley, he admitted that he did not sustain any physical injury from the actions of the employees,” Bourbon Street’s attorney, James J. Temple Jr., said in an email. “This was confirmed by the reports of all of his medical providers. After two days of testimony and evidence, the jury determined that the security personnel acted appropriately and found for Bourbon Street.”
Volz, a contractor from Freeland, originally sued Bourbon Street for negligence as well, saying the bar’s employees should have stopped the beating sooner. But Judge Evelyn O. Cannon granted a motion to dismiss that claim on Aug. 5. (Judge Althea M. Handy presided over the jury trial.)
Temple said Cannon made the right decision, given that Bourbon Street had twice the security personnel recommended by the Downtown Partnership on duty that night and nothing seemed amiss until Shanley slugged Volz.
“While no venue wants these situations to occur, it is virtually impossible to stop this type of unexpected behavior,” Temple said. “Had security personnel been given sufficient warning that Mr. Shanley was going to act in the manner that he did, they would have taken the necessary precautions to avoid this situation.”
Shanley, who is from Texas and could not be reached for comment, had already pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in a criminal trial for the beating and served two months in jail. He did not attend any of the civil proceedings after the pretrial conference. Temple said he’d provided no explanation for his actions outside of “some vague confrontation earlier in the evening between Mr. Volz and a female friend of his.”
Butchok said that during the trial he appealed to the jury’s sense of exasperation with a city in which “we already have enough violence” without people coming in from out of town and laying down a seemingly unprovoked beating at a public concert.
“One thing that surprised me was that a Baltimore city jury was so incensed by an assault that they awarded $400,000 in punitive damages,” Butchok said. “That’s how bad this was. … If he hadn’t been stopped, he probably would have killed the guy.”
But Butchok said he also thought Shanley’s brutality might have overshadowed the bouncers’ treatment of Volz.
“I don’t know exactly why [the jury ruled in favor of Bourbon Street], but my gut feeling is that it was a technical assault, while the other guy really did a lot of damage,” he said.
Temple said Bourbon Street’s security acted appropriately that night, getting Volz out of the bar for his own safety and so medical personnel could attend to him when the ambulance arrived. Temple said Shanley was the right person to punish.
In addition to the punitive damages, the jury ordered Shanley to pay Volz $200,000 for pain and suffering and $100,000 for medical bills. Cannon reduced the latter award because Volz had only claimed $12,150 in medical bills.
George Volz v. Bourbon Street LLC, Joseph M. SHANLEY
Baltimore City Circuit
Althea M. Handy
$612,150 Plaintiff’s Verdict against Shanley
Incident: Nov. 25, 2009
Suit filed: June 14, 2010
Disposition: Sept. 9, 2011
James J. Temple Jr.