Friday 23 August 2019

Nightclub owner forced to close down family business after 120 years: 'The insurance broke me'

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Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A former nightclub owner has claimed he had to close down his business because he couldn't afford the insurance costs after a string of compensation claims by customers.

The 58-year-old, who owned a popular club that had been in his family for 120 years, is now working in a local bar and said he is still struggling to make ends meet.

He shut the club down in the summer of 2016 as it was costing him €35,000 to insure the premises each year.

The dad-of-three had been running the club for 15 years and said he had to deal with - on average - two to three claims a year, which drove up his insurance premium.

While he said some of the claims were genuine, in a few cases he believes the nightclub shouldn't have been found liable as the customers were "very intoxicated".

He is now calling for a more "level playing field" as he feels nightclub owners are being faced with a "lose-lose situation" as insurers are encouraging them to pay-out because it can "often be less expensive than fighting the case". 

"When we started off, the insurance was in the region of €15,000 with no excess. When I finished up, it was €35,000 plus a huge excess, and it absolutely broke me," he told Independent.ie.

"I reckon that every nightclub is having the same kind of experience. I think one of the big problems is that people are not taking responsibility for their own actions. They are pre-drinking and getting hammered and we can't protect people from falling, we can only stop them coming onto the premises if they're too drunk, but even when we've tried to do that, we've been sued."

Some of the claims brought against his club include a woman falling off a bar stool and injuring her wrist and a man injuring himself while being restrained by security after being refused entry to the property because he was "too drunk".

"There are genuine cases, don't get me wrong, but insurers don't want to fight the ones that aren't. It is absolutely a lose-lose situation," he said.

"It is also very difficult to compete against no win, no fee legal advice. We have to pay the legal costs no matter what.

"I'm working in a local pub now, but employment isn't easy to come by. It was very hard to close a business that was in the family for over a hundred years."

Some of the payouts ranged from €1,000 to €40,000 and the majority were settled outside court.

"We are given the option of going through the Injuries Board, but you can agree to pay thousands and then the victim isn’t happy and then they go to court. A lot of them end up being settled beforehand and it's a long, drawn out process".

Nichola Nolan, manager with Crotty Group Insurance, said nightclub owners are finding it increasingly difficult to get insurance in Ireland.

In their experience, premiums have been increasing year-on-year and because of the unwillingness to insure, and the fact that there are fewer insurers available to nightclub owners "results in less competition which in turn results in higher premium cost".

"In my experience the majority of nightclub and entertainment venues are difficult insurance risks to place even for the most seasoned brokers and we are now finding that only London Market Insurers are willing to offer terms for liability risks for nightclubs.

"In most instances, the covers will come with high excess’s applied on each claim – sometimes up to €10,000 in my experience.

"The goal of most bars and nightclubs is to provide a gathering place (which means a high footfall) where patrons can have a good time, often by listening to or watching entertainment, and/or dancing, while purchasing and consuming alcohol. However, it is the latter item, the consumption of alcoholic beverages that tends to lessen or remove inhibitions in many people, which is a frequent cause of problems and, increasingly, claims for bar and club operators.

"This results in higher frequency of slip/ trip/falls incidents and due to the increased claims culture in Ireland a higher number of personal injury claims put through under the nightclub insurance. For example, one of the questions asked by insurers in recent years is where the toilets are located in the club, because from their statistics, up to 80pc of these claims happen while patrons are going up or down stairs where toilets are located, possibly after consuming alcohol resulting in falls."

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