You Be the Judge: The Case of the Falling Filmgoer

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

By Vicki Glembocki
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014

high heel illustrationNoma 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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  • Your Comments

    • Peter Harmen Burke

      AMC wasn’t at fault ,.,. plain & simple ,.,.,.

    • jhg6

      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.

    • ReasonableAnswer

      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.

    • ann

      the sign is a HAZERD FOR TIPPING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • ann

      they are responsible for placing a tiped sign!!!

    • Bocefus

      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.

      • poncho

        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.

        • poncho

          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.

    • Casey

      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.

    • AC

      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.

    • Art

      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.

    • shan_the_man

      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.