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Movie Theater Liability

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By: Erica L. Pereira, Esq.

With the tough winter that has been ever present in the Northeast this year, I’m sure the movie theaters have been packed with patrons looking to escape the cold.  Whether for a date night or for an escape from the freezing weather, many people find the movie theater a great place to go to get away.

All of us have gone into the movie theater with our giant tub of popcorn, nachos, candy or soda and sat down to enjoy the movie.  How many of us, though, have remembered to throw the trash away after the movie?  How many times have you sat down to find trash at your seat or almost tripped on an empty popcorn container which was left in the aisle?  Odds are that this has happened to each one of us at least one time.

New caselaw in Massachusetts has recently held that movie theaters are in a unique situation where the darkened auditorium coupled with the expected discard of used refreshment containers sold on the premises creates a heightened care requiring increased attention to safety on the part of the theater owner.

The “mode of operation” theory of liability [see  Sheehan v. Roche Brothers Supermarkets, Inc., 448 Mass. 780 (2007)] dictates that guests or patrons in facilities such as supermarkets, store, theaters or hotels are entitled to expect that the hosts will make far greater preparations for their safety than even a homeowner would take for their guests.  The MA Superior Court in the most recent case of Mills v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., held that a theater is a unique venue.  It is a dimly lit or darkened space when the performance is being shown and there are food and concession vendors offering guests to purchase food and beverages and take them into the darkened auditorium.  People entering are often unable to observe the conditions of the floor, aisles and seats which could contain hazards to unsuspecting patrons.

So, when you go to the movies this weekend and you walk into the darkened theater, please be cautious where you are walking.  Throw away your trash when you leave the theater and please report to the manager of the theater if you notice a dangerous situation.  If you unfortunately are caused to sustain an injury in a situation like this, the attorneys here can help you know your rights.