The family of a 24-year-old man who drowned on a February night last year after wandering drunkenly into Boston Harbor has brought a wrongful death lawsuit against a Financial District bar, claiming the establishment kicked him out and left him to "fend for himself.''
In February 2014, Eric Munsell was ousted from the Market bar and lounge after a bouncer saw him stumbling and bumping into other customers. Although it was below freezing outside, Munsell was not given a chance to retrieve his coat or tell his friends he was leaving, the lawsuit says.
"It was foreseeable that ejecting Mr. Munsell from the bar to fend for himself in his intoxicated state and without a coat created a dangerous situation that placed Mr. Munsell at increased risk of injury and death," the suit said.
After ousting Munsell, the bouncer stood and watched as Munsell "stumbled off toward the street, weaving unsteadily," according to the suit. The bouncer did not tell Munsell's friends he had been kicked out or call him a cab, it alleges.
"Neither the bouncer who threw out Mr. Munsell nor any other Market employee made any effort to avoid or mitigate this unsafe situation," the suit states.
Munsell's body was recovered from the water near Long Wharf in April 2014.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the owners and operators of the bar, JPC Venture Corp. and the Cronin Group, asserting they did not have appropriate policies for removing drunk patrons and acted negligently by failing "to take reasonable steps to ensure his safety when removing him."
A lawyer for Munsell's family said they hope the suit encourages bars to take more care ejecting intoxicated customers.
"The family didn't want Eric to die in vain," said Jed DeWick, who is representing the family. "There is a duty that bars owe to their patrons."
In a statement, Market said it takes its "responsibilities very seriously," and noted that it was not cited for any violation.
"This was clearly a tragedy, and our hearts go out to Mr. Munsell's family," the statement said.
In April 2014, the city's licensing board found no violation for failing to provide aid to an intoxicated person. In its decision, the board cited testimony from bar staff, who said Munsell was asked to leave because he offended a group of female patrons, and that they did not believe he was impaired.
"In addition, at the time that he was asked to leave, he was asked whether he had a coat to which he replied no," the board said in its decision. "He left the premises without incident."
Munsell was celebrating his birthday with friends at his North End apartment, and walked to Market after having a number of drinks. His group arrived at the bar around 10:20 p.m., and Munsell was kicked out about an hour later.
He began wandering back toward the North End but was too disoriented to find his way, according to the lawsuit.
"He was intoxicated, cold, disoriented, and alone," the suit states.
Witnesses reported that Munsell stumbled and fell into snowbanks, and one witness saw him trying to enter a North End residence several blocks from his own apartment.
Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said the suit was a "creative argument," but likely faced an uphill climb.
"I think it will come down to 'Was this a foreseeable outcome?' " he said.
A New Jersey native, Munsell had moved to Boston for college and graduated from Boston University in 2012. He worked as an aerospace engineer for GE Aviation.
In his obituary, Munsell is remembered as "unfailingly kind and considerate," someone who "brightened anywhere he went with his silly sense of humor and beaming smile."
The bodies of several men have been found in the water in recent years, apparent victims of accidental drownings.
In 2012, the body of a Harvard University student was recovered from the harbor in Portland, Maine, a short distance from the pub where he had been asked to leave. His friends were initially unaware he was gone, but later spoke to him several times on the phone to try and find him.
That same year, the body of a Boston College student was found in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The student was last seen leaving a bar in Cleveland Circle.
In 2010, the body of a Lawrence man who went missing in the waterfront area was found several months later floating near Rowes Wharf in Boston. And in 2009, a Quincy man who disappeared while talking to his fiancee on the phone was found dead in the Charles River.