Can social media ads lead a court to hold a business responsible for a physical assault that occurred after the customer left the business’ premises?  On July 9, 2014, a federal trial court in Pennsylvania ruled in Paynton v Spuds that the restaurant’s marketing and ads on Facebook were a “significant” factor in denying the business’ motion for summary judgment.

The case involved a restaurant located in a college town  The restaurant, Spuds, did not serve alcohol, but was located near several establishments that did.  The restaurant, like many businesses, chose to advertise around local events.  For example, the restaurant advertised on Facebook:  “Don’t forget to come get some Spuds after dollar drinks tonight!  We are open until 3 AM!”

One late night during college homecoming, the plaintiff and his companions were subjected to abusive behavior by several defendants in the restaurant.  The trial court found that the videotape surveillance was inconclusive as to whether the Spuds staff condoned this behavior.  The plaintiff claimed he feared for his safety and left the restaurant.  He was attacked two storefronts away, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and permanent damage to his right eye.

In this civil action, defendant Spuds moved for summary judgment based on the general principle that a business is not responsible for conduct that takes place off its property.  The court denied the motion, stating that the assault “might credibly be related to events occurring inside Spuds.”  Moreover, “I place significant weight on the nature of Spuds’ business, that is, marketing itself as a destination for young people after a night of consuming alcohol at nearby bars.”

Does your business advertise in connection with events where alcohol can be served or other potentially dangerous conduct can occur?  Have you reviewed your social media ads lately?


Sue Ross ( / +1 212 318 3280) is a lawyer in Norton Rose Fulbright’s US intellectual property practice.