A popular restaurant and bar in Grand Bend was forced to close its doors two weeks ahead of the Labour Day long weekend because of problems getting its insurance renewed, its owner says, adding it’s related to a lawsuit stemming from 2019.
“We have an open claim, and due to the open claim, we just can’t seem to get insurance,” Valante Karamoutzos, owner of Willie’s Beach Bar and The Tipsy Pelican on Main Street, told The Free Press on Tuesday.
Karamoutzos declined to comment further because the matter is before the court. “I don’t really want to talk about it because it’s an open claim. It’s in court. It’s from a couple years ago, from 2019,” he said.
According to a 15-page statement of claim filed in June 2021, Willie’s Beach Bar is named in a $7.5-million lawsuit over a 2019 Canada Day altercation between Kyle Hern and Cole Willemsen outside the bar that left one of them with a permanent brain injury. Both men both played for the Exeter Hawks junior C hockey team at different times.
Hern and his family launched the lawsuit against Willemsen, Willie’s Beach Bar, its owner, and the bartender and manager who are alleged to have served both men alcohol leading up to the fight. Three other related parties are named as defendants in the claim.
Statements of claim and statements of defence contain allegations not proven in court.
Hern and Willemsen were both in Willie's Beach Bar on July 1, 2019, when a dispute arose and first Willemsen and then Hern were escorted out of the premises, the lawsuit says.
The statement of claim alleges the bar’s employees “intervened but did not call for police” when the dispute between the two men continued into the parking lot. Hern was then escorted back into Willie’s, where he was served more booze despite his intoxication, the lawsuit says.
He was escorted from the bar again and left unattended, across the street from Willemsen, the statement of claim says.
"Suddenly and without warning or provocation, (Willemsen) violently charged Kyle Hern, punching him in the left side of his jaw," the lawsuit says.
Hern fell to the ground and was unconscious for a period of time, the claim says.
Hern didn't receive medical attention right away and was taken to hospital the following day, by which time a significant blood clot had developed, the lawsuit says.
He suffered a "traumatic brain injury" resulting in a stroke that left him with extremely limited mobility and language and cognitive defects, the claim says.
“He remains unable to care for himself,” the lawsuit said.
Willemsen, who is from Grand Bend, was sentenced to eight months in jail in September 2021 after pleading guilty to aggravated assault months earlier.
The lawsuit claims the negligence of workers at Willie’s Beach Bar caused or contributed to Hern’s injuries. Among the allegations, the claim contends its workers overserved the two men booze and were not trained to notice when patrons consumed too much.
Karamoutzos and his lawyer did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
Willie’s Beach Bar and Karamoutzos have filed a statement of defence denying all the allegations, describing the relief sought as “grossly excessive, exaggerated, inflated” and “too remote."
The statement of defence contends any injuries or losses sustained by Hern were caused by his own negligence. “He was the author of his own misfortunate,” it contends.
Willemsen also has filed a statement of defence denying most of the allegations.
A hearing date for the matter has not been scheduled.
Both hotspots for beachgoers, Willie’s Beach Bar and The Tipsy Pelican have been closed since Aug. 19.
Little information about the weeks-long closing has been made public, with no signage outside the bar and restaurant and only a “Temporarily closed” description on the business’s social media pages.
Still, Karamoutzos said on Tuesday the reception from customers had been positive, with many expressing their support for the business.
“I feel worse for the customers,” he said. “We get an enormous amount of people. They come to Grand Bend just to spend the weekend here.”
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press