Very small legal disclaimer sign outside of restaurant: Valid?

At a fastfood place I worked at last year, some woman came in raising seven kinds of Cain because we had some peanut product somewhere, somehow, that came into contact with her peanut allergic child.

I called the district manager, and he said “Well, we have a sign posted, and we can’t be held responsible because she chose not to read it.”
OK. I’m not making a judgement about the ethics, but I am curious of what kind of legal protection that a 4 inch by 4 inch warning concerning peanut oil, or whatever, has. The sign was on the door that the drive thru traffic sort of limited the pedestrian traffic.
So, what sort of legal rulings are in effect for a situation with a very small, and out of the way, though not totally inaccessible, warning?


Are you also interested in whether the sign was legally necessary? If it’s not required, it might not matter where you put it or how big it is.

I’m sure that laws vary from one city, county, state and nation to another. I wouldn’t be surprised if the various appellate districts in the US had slightly different precedents.

I don’t know of any laws in jurisdictions near me (in the US, Washington state) that requires the restaurant to post ANY sign at all. So even a sign that isn’t terribly visible is already going above and beyond the call of duty and showing that restaurant has made an effort to inform customers.

On the other hand, a sign on or near the menu would make more sense and Lord knows that lawyers have held fast food chains responsible for warning you that hot beverages are, in fact, hot.

Even without a sign an allergy isn’t the responsiblity of the resturant. In the law you not only have responsibility but degrees of responsibility.

For instance, suppose I go into a resturaunt and order cherry pie and bite into it and chip a tooth on a metal washer. This is a big deal. Suppose I go into a resturant and bite into a cherry pie slice and chip my tooth on a cherry pit. It’s not so big a deal.

The law holds one might reasonably expect to find a cherry pit in a cherry pie. One would never expect to find a metal washer in any food.

The end result, a chipped tooth is the same, but the degree of responsibility is different.

The OP question seems to be about the ability to contract out of something.

In general you can’t contract out of something against the law. You can’t contract for something illegal, well you can but it’s not enforecable. If a local law says resturants serving peanuts or having peanuts on property must be posted, these laws almost always include language such as placement of sign, typeface and size of sign and so on.

The business can be fined for failure to have such a sign or rendered it properly.

A lawsuit by the customer against the establishment is a civil thing and not having a sign when the law requires it or having it incorrectly displayed wouldn’t guarantee a win of a civil lawsuit but merely add extra weight to win it.

Some people are under the mistaken impression that the posting of a sign per se can release a business from all legal liability. A business can be successfully sued under certain circumstances even if a sign is present saying that they don’t take responsibility for whatever they’re being sued for. (I have heard of situations where even agreements signed by customers agreeing to release a business from liability can be thrown out.) IANAL so I can’t give you a realistic case law example, but the idea is that if an auto parts store clerk spills a gallon of motor oil all over the floor and fails to clean it up, and puts a handwritten sign on the front door saying, “Caution, there is motor oil all over the damn place inside” and someone enters and slips and hurts themselves, the sign does not automatically release the store from all liability.

In the OP’s situation, the sign is a red herring, unless the sign is required by law. The sign does not release them from liability as the district manager might think (“we have a sign”), but in this situation there may not be any liability to begin with. If it is not required by law, then the store does not have the obligation to list every ingredient they serve that someone might possibly be allergic to. That could be a long list–dairy products, gluten, nitrites, what have you.

These days there is a raised consciousness about peanut allergies, and airlines have quit serving them; a highly sensitive person can have a reaction even if the person next to him is eating peanuts. Five Guys serves peanuts in a big bin so you can munch while waiting for your order; they have have a sign on the door that peanuts are served there (they also have a sign asking people not to take peanuts away out of concern for neighborhood children who might have peanut allergies, but I think this is out of concern for giving away too many free peanuts :rolleyes:). So what is considered “ordinary care” probably changes with the times. Today “ordinary care” might be announcing prominently that you serve peanut products. But ultimately it would be tested in court.

Southwest Airlines still serves peanuts on their flights.

This didn’t stop an American attendant from explaining to a passenger on a flight I was on that they did not serve peanuts “due to FAA regulations”.

The question i about whether a sign actually helps the restaurant legally. I know golf courses can put up signs claiming if a golfer hits one over the fence the course is not responsible. In Michigan they still are. You could just print up a sign with all contingencies and have a free ride.

No they haven’t. Jetblue has served them on the past few flights I’ve been on.

I also remember hearing about school cafeterias banning PB&J because of this concern, but I never had a problem sending my kids to school with PB&J sandwiches.

I am anything but a lawyer, but my experience with my “pioneering” peanut-allergic mother would go along with this.

How can you expect the public to anticipate your allergy? There must be hundreds. “Oh, you have balloons in this store!! I’m allergic to latex!! You evil Huns!!!”

Every fast food place I’ve been in in recent years also has a poster, usually near the order counter, with a detailed list of the ingredients, calories, & other nutritional info on each of the menu items. I expect that would also say something about peanuts.

I didn’t say *all *airlines. :rolleyes:

My kid’s elementary has a rule against sharing food in the cafeteria. When I was a kid, trading lunches was a mainstay of elementary school commerice.

Delta, too. 3 weeks ago.

“Disclaimer: We ain’t reponsbile for shit”.

Too much?


If you have a kid with peanut allergies, you don’t eat out.

Simple, right?

If you don’t know exactly what went into the food, you don’t feed it to them.

How is this rocket science?

Those signs do have some bearing, when it comes to convincing a jury anyway. The parent cannot say the restaurant used peanuts without posting it. It’s the parents job to look carefully - and ask, in this case. Legally the presence of Peanuts do not always require that notice in every state. In states that do, there are standards that regulate the signage. If the sign meets those standards, the woman loses part of her argument.