You Be the Judge

You Be the Judge: The Case of the Falling Filmgoer

Should a movie theater pay when a patron takes a spill?

high heel illustration
Noma Bar for Reader’s Digest

On Christmas Day in 2003, Nancy Sue Brown took her daughter and grandchildren to see the film Cheaper by the Dozen at an AMC movie theater in a Georgia mall. The theater was packed. When the film was over, Brown, then 63, followed the large crowd through the lobby toward the exit. As she passed the concession stand, she suddenly tripped, then tumbled to the ground.

About ten minutes earlier, an AMC employee had mopped up a spilled drink in the area and placed a sign saying Wet Floor over the spot. It was an A-frame sign—the kind used by businesses everywhere—made of bright yellow plastic, with CAUTION in red capital letters across the top.

The sign had fallen over—probably trampled by the crowd—and Brown hadn’t seen it lying flat on the floor. “There [were] people all around me,” she explained. “If I had been looking down … I probably would have run into them.”

Her left foot caught in the handle of the sign, and she fell forward, hitting her head on the carpeted floor. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital. She had no serious head injuries, but doctors told her that she had broken several bones in her left foot. She wore a cast for four months. Two years later, Brown had back surgery to address injuries she believed she’d sustained in the fall.

A month after the surgery, in December 2005, Brown and her husband sued AMC, claiming the movie-theater chain was negligent for placing a “tripping hazard” in an area they knew would be “trafficked by hordes of customers.” The Browns demanded $383,000 to cover pain and suffering and medical expenses. AMC’s attorney, Christopher Ziegler, wondered, “Where else would you put a Wet Floor sign than where people are walking?”

Was AMC responsible for a filmgoer’s tripping over a sign that had been knocked down? You be the judge.

Next: The Verdict

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39 thoughts on “You Be the Judge: The Case of the Falling Filmgoer

  1. I agree– people NEED to learn to be responsible for themselves & NOT expect others to pay for their clumsiness! Americans are sue-happy & go running to lawyers for everything! Americans have forgotten what “accident” means!

  2. They put up the wet floor sign, and that’s all they had to do. The person who knocked over the sign should have put it back up.

  3. I agree with the ruling. This was an accident. Everyone is at risk to have something similar happen to them. Its life. If it were me I would have tried to avoid the big crowd by either leaving as soon as the movie finished or staying to watch the credits while everyone else rushed to the doors. I could have even stood against the wall out of the way of the crowd until it passed by. People just need to be aware and use common sense and if something unfortunate happens they shouldn’t start looking for someone to blame. *hit happens, deal with it.

  4. The ruling was just. The case should not have gone on for as long as it did. A patron created the hazard by spilling a drink, the business cleaned it up and posted a warning for the public. I don’t have the best of eyesight, but I always look where I step, even a crowd. It’s the same as driving, you have to look in front, to the left and to the right and to the rear. I’m sure that the woman had good enough vision to see the movie, then she certainly should have been able to see an obstacle in front her!

  5. A person should always watch where they are stepping, whether in a crowd, or not! It’s not the theater’s fault that she didn’t watch her step.

  6. Accident insurance is a must for all businesses. If AMC failed to insure themselves for such accidents and then also failed to help pay for medical bills, then they are liable.

  7. A B L – I believe that the verdict should be guilty because she wasnt looking where she was going.
    M S – We disagree with the verdict because the sign was knocked down and she didnt see the sign and she tripped so it was her fault.
    L C G – We agree with the verdict because it was ALL her fault and she wasnt paying attention. Watch yo step girl!
    H B- We believe that she should be found guilty because she wasnt watching where she was going and fell to the ground like a goober.
    W C – We disagree because it was her fault she wasnt looking around for anything that was in her path. She needs to watch where she is going.. HELLO BROKE FOOT HERE!
    J D W – We agree with the verdict because even though the crowd made it fall down she could still use her eyeballs and look at the ground to see where she is going!!!!
    B A K – We agree with the verdict because she wasnt watching where she was going and she is way to stingy to pay her own medical bills and wanting other people to pay for it!! GET A JOB WOMAN!!!
    R C – We agree with the verdict because she should have been watching her step and learn how to walk. Go back to grade school woman!!!
    K D – We agree with the verdict because she should have been watching her step not the guys booty in front of her!!! HELLO What do you expect?!?!?!?!
    S C – She should not ger money because she wasnt watching where she was going. The only reason she should get the money is if it really happened but she is a liar liar pants on fire!!! Pay for it yourself woman!!
    Mrs. P- I think she is wanting other people to pay for her mistake .The floor sign was posted and it was her fault she didnt pay attention. Most people can chew gum and walk at the same time. Too bad she cant walk period……. I think she should pay her medical bills and get over it.

    1. A wet floor sign has never been enough to prevent someone from falling over wet floors. especially polished floors like porcelain or the ones they put on theaters. if a floor is wet is a hazard and like someone said before , the wet area should be cordoned with posts. PERIOD. on the other hand, it’s hard to legally blame the theater as they are complying with OSHA rules. safety rules should be modified to comply with ” common sense “. sometimes the OSHA rules are just made to prevent legal action but not made to prevent a real hazard.

      1. Morally or ethically speaking, the theater is responsibly for this accident.
        Legally speaking, the theater IS NOT responsibly or liable. the judge had to go by the law. unfortunately sometimes we make a nonsense laws or rules. we can not blame others for any single accident we have or mistake we make, and sometimes people pays a high price for other’s negligence.

  8. They were at fault because for one, how often do one of those small signs cover the entire wet area. Ive seen wet areas span a whole lobby with one small sign in the center of it. I know that’s a little off track since she tripped on the sign itself, but my point is they should have dried the area. Then there wouldn’t have been a sign to trip on. I never understood why people don’t dry the spills after cleaning them.

  9. I agree with the verdict. I also agree that AMC and others can learn from this and dry as soon as it is mopped. AMC certainly dished money out to fight this case so a change for the better does need to happen in the way that they clean up a mess.

  10. Mrs. Brown should have been compensated for her slip and fall. The key to this case is whether or not the theater new or should have known that placing this sign in said location would have created a Foreseeable hazard. An employee could have easily stood by the sign and help to divert the foot traffic until floor was completely dry then removed the sign. Places of business owe the public a level of safety. In this case they were negligent.

  11. The ruling was correct. The theater was legally compliant. They minimally met what was expected from a legal and safety perspective. They satisfied the law when they put the sign in place. I agree that leaving the wet floor sign and not bothering to dry the area and removing the sign prior to the people exiting the theater was poor judgement. But hindsight is 20/20. It probably was a part time 16 year old who did what they were trained to do. They mopped, left the sign and went back to selling popcorn. The manager was in the front watching the windows or in their office. They probably never dreamed people would just trample right over the caution sign. Wouldn’t you walk around it? Hopefully theaters every where took notice and implemented new safety policies after this incident. This should be a lesson learned by anyone who manages an establishment.

  12. At least this time, the jury had more sense than the Georgia Supreme Court.

  13. This Verdict was not Just! As a Business, it is AMC’s duty to provide a safe environment to its customers. If the sign wasnt visible its the same as not being up. As a “victim”(yeah i said it!) of a recent Slip and Fall accident,I know firsthand how totally helpless and disreguarded one can feel to be surprised with falling on a hard, wet floor.There are different degrees of moisture, wet,damp,partially damp its all the same if you SLIP on it!How many of you X-men can see water on a shiny, half dry floor? I’ll wait…..how abut seeing beforehand that you are in danger of slipping because there wasn’t a sign that is VISIBLE? I fell and it took me by Surprise because It was a backward fall and I have to deal with the pain. Nancy Sue Brown was in Georgia,Clayton County,(no wonder that judge kept dismissing the case)for 4 years….really? There are some hateful people in this world and its evident that they were against seeing this helpless woman compensated for being injured due to a company’s laziness and subtle greed……i hope she came back to haunt the hell out of that sexist judge…..i’m just saying…..Business owners, be like Publix Supermarket, who will not only put a Caution sign down, they will watch the are til the floor dries. Now thats what I call Customer Care!!!

  14. I say AMC was liable for three reasons. #1 The sign was supposedly in place for 10 minutes. How long does it take to dry? The sign should have been removed before it then became a hazard. #2 The theater manager should have had at least one employee stationed to guide patrons around the area. One knee-high plastic sign is invisible when a crowd walks through. #3 When you rent a video, you never have the possibility of this happening. Is that what AMC wants? They should have paid the minuscule $380,000 to this woman to show they care about theater patrons.

    1. what’s not mentioned is the lady had a history of similar law suits. Always looking for a free handout…

      1. I have been looking for a reference to similar lawsuits. Where do you
        see that? The several broken bones and four months in a cast do not
        suggest it was frivolous.

  15. The theater is to blame. They had time to clean the spill and leave the area they should have spent more time and dried the area. Knowing a crowd would soon be walking through there.

  16. Placing a warning is useless if it can’t be seen under normal circumstances. Crowds of people existing a theater through the hallways and lobby is normal. The theater should have cordoned off the area with poles and ropes like you see sometime where people queue up in lines. And, just to be safe, until the area was safe again an employee should have been stationed in the there to be sure people were aware of the danger.

    1. So where does one draw the line, especially in a crowded place? What if this lady had tripped over the foot of the employee standing there at the wet spot, and sued because the employee tripped her even if it wasn’t purposeful? Seriously. Where do we stop and begin to take responsibility for ourselves, our actions and safety?

  17. i don’t feel that the verdict was in error. regardless of society’s skewing toward blaming companies or anyone but an injured individual, (who end up being referred to as a victim,) i believe that a person should be responsible for themselves and their actions. in this case, most would like to blame the company and see the sympathetic victim receive relief. to those, i would ask a simple question; what if the sign were a toddler walking with its mother? what if the toddler’s foot were stepped on, it fell down, then had neck problems months or years later? who should be sued, the mother for having brought the toddler to the movies, or the person that stepped on its foot?
    people should consider watching where they are going and ponder taking responsibility for themselves, knowing that accidents happen.

    1. The verdict was definitely in error. In a case of a toddler who gets stepped on, the theater would have absolutely no liability, and any suing would be between the patrons, as patrons stepping on each other is not under the control of the theater. In the case of a sign placed by the theater to warn of a danger that itself becomes a danger, then that is under the control of the theater and the fault is strictly of the theater. Instead of placing the sign they should just make sure that the floor is dry so that no sign is needed. Also, in a crowded area, which is the norm for movie theaters, it can be impossible for a patron to see what is on the floor, and it should not be incumbent of the patron in that setting to be looking for obstacles on the floor.

      1. You say it can be Impossible for a patron to see what’s on the floor. Only when one walks that close behind others. Moving within a thick crowd is a choice that brings this risk; a choice. Avoiding that risk is as utterly simple as waiting until the crowd has thinned out. She didn’t. Whose fault is that? If it is not incumbent on us to take any personal precautions at all, we as a society have lost our minds.

        1. So you have a crowd of people coming out of a theatre, closely crowded together, as is often the case, then everyone waiting until the crowd thins out so they can look for obstructions on the floor, in a place intended for crowd use and not normally, and which should not be, a place where obstructions are present.

          1. Well, too much caution would be better than not enough, especially for older folks. The ironic thing is that the sign was really necessary because of other lawsuits that claimed just that – and won. Only in America.

          2. No argument about being cautious – and I don’t doubt the other lawsuits. But this whole issue would go away if whenever there is a spill the responsible people would put their attention to making sure the area is completely dry, rather than leaving a wet area that could be dangerous and compounding it by placing a sign that can also be dangerous.

          3. I have to agree with Donald here — how much harder would it have been for the theater staff to dry the floor after cleaning up the spill? No wet floor means no wet floor hazard and thus, no sign needed; no sign means no tripping hazard created by the sign. The current “standard of care” for spills should be clean it up so that the surface is dry. This is hardly an unreasonable burden.

  18. “Wet Floor” signs are outdated. Any business in a country where paper towels exist should dry the floor after an unintended spill. Large areas should be mopped when the business is not open to the public. Hospitals may be an exception, as they must stay open 24 hours a day and meet sanitary standards. However, they should be able to afford microfiber mops that will do the job with faster dryng times.

  19. This case is all wrong. Instead of concentrating on the sign, they should
    fault the theater for not cleaning up right away, rather than placing a sign that
    itself can be a hazard. If they have time to place a sign to say that the floor
    is wet, they have time to call a cleaning person to properly dry the floor so
    that it is not a hazard. If they have to wait for the cleaning person, they
    should position an employee at the spot to keep people from walking there. The
    sign itself can be, and was, more of a hazard than the wet floor could have
    been. The theater and/or AMC ought to have been found liable for negligence, if
    it had been presented in that way from the start.

      1. I see that, but if they cleaned the spill properly, the floor would be dry and there would be no need for a sign.

      2. They cleaned the spill but created another hazard, which the woman tripped over. They placed the sign, as you say, but made it a hazard by not placing it in such a manner that it would not become a hazard. After cleaning the spill itself, they created the hazard of the wet floor. They could have dried the floor properly, as “Donald” has commented, and they would have eliminated the wet floor hazard and not have needed to use the sign which created the tripping hazard. Believe me, I hate these kinds of lawsuits, as many of them inappropriately target worthwhile businesses, but in this case the business, by acting differently, could have easily prevented their own liability.

  20. The verdict is proper. As a nation we have come to think every misfortune has to be someone’s fault,and we are due compensation. So many fail to accept responsibility for themselves. And there are plenty of lawyers who have learned to make a good living out of this situation.

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