Warning: Another Contender for Largest Warning Award

largest warning labelThis very large sign in a Tennessee restaurant contends with the Tokyo Subway warning for The World’s Largest Warning, but it’s more interesting than that.

In the Southern United States, and perhaps in other parts of the country, it is popular for some restaurants to serve peanuts and encourage customers to throw the shells on the floor.  Forget that it’s an unreasonable risk for a business invitor to have debris or other objects on the floor where customers are known to walk, or that slip and fall cases rank in the double digits percentage-wise among all tort lawsuits.  It’s FUN to throw trash on the floor!

The fact that customers are on notice that peanut shells litter the floor– and it would be hard to content otherwise given this enormous sign, give them credit for that–probably is not sufficient to protect a business from liability if someone slips and gets injured.  The fact that a danger is obvious is a defense only if the danger can be navigated safely with knowledge of the risk which, I would argue, is not true of a shell-strewn floor, which is probably dark and traveled on frequently by customers consuming alcohol.

As for the “Loud Music” warning, this could be an attempt at humor, as the entire sign could be, or it could be a legitimate warning that the music played in the establishment is loud enough to cause hearing damage.  It raises an interesting question I have long wondered about: Is a music venue negligent if it plays music at a level that causes hearing damage or is that a risk music fans assume?  Even though I sing and play in loud rock bands, I assert it is negligent to play music the venue owner reasonably knows or should know is above the  decibel-level known to cause hearing damage.

One year when I was teaching at a law school in San Francisco, I was at a Fillmore show.  I forget who the band was but the music was so loud that it felt literally deafening.  My ears ached and I could see my clothes flatten with every bass note.  I went to the soundman and tried to explain it was too loud.  He couldn’t hear what I was saying, of course.  I shouted louder and when he figured it out, he looked at me like I was crazy.

Any cases on this?  Let me know.

–Thanks to Terry Van Eaton

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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