Walking Through Theatres
by Steven John Fellman
NATO Washington Counsel
Whenever I am out of Washington and having
dinner with a NATO member, the conversation usually turns
operations. After a good dinner and a glass of wine, the
typical NATO member will suggest, “Let’s go
look at some theatres.”
Lawsuits cost money and even if you are successful,
the cost of defense is high. Your insurance carrier
will increase your premium significantly if you are
the subject of multiple claims. Some simple preventive
measures will be cost-effective.
As you walk through a theatre, it is obvious
that some operators emphasize cleanliness, neatness, and
the appearance of the facility and the employees who work
there. Other operators appear less concerned and this lack
of concern shows when you walk around the facility.
The lack of concern about the facility can
lead to significant liability. People will trip on debris
on floors that have
not been properly cleaned. Local health inspectors may
impose fines for unsanitary conditions around the concession
stands. OSHA inspectors may cite facilities where employees
are working under unsafe conditions.
The more “slip and fall” cases and inspection
citations that a facility accrues, the greater the likelihood
that a plaintiff’s attorney will be successful in
a claim against that facility’s owner.
One of the major problems that can be found
in any public facility involves emergency exits that are
blocked or locked.
A blocked or locked emergency exit is not only extremely
hazardous, but presents a significant potential liability
in the event that an emergency arises.
I have heard all sorts of stories about
problems with exit doors. The typical complaint involves “kids” who
go down to the exit before a movie begins and open the
exit doors so that their friends can sneak into the theatre.
Theatre operators should have a security system which enables
them to monitor exit doors or at least know when those
exit doors have been opened. The fact that some kids have
used the exit doors to sneak in friends is no justification
for blocking or locking the exit doors at any time.
There are times when a theatre may experience
a need to evacuate the auditorium. Electrical outages,
malfunctioning equipment and fire are among the events
that must be anticipated.
Is your staff trained to handle such emergencies?
Significant staff turnover is common in the motion picture
industry. How do you train new staff regarding what to
do in an emergency? How often do you have a “fire
drill” so that the staff can practice what they have
been taught? Smaller chains that do not have the benefit
of experts in crowd control should contact the local fire
departments in the towns where their theatres are located.
Review your emergency procedures with your local authorities
and let them know what you would do in the event of an
By working with your local authorities in
advance, you will find that if an actual problem does arise,
have better coordination with the emergency support from
your town or county government.
Lawsuits cost money and even if you are
successful, the cost of defense is high. Your insurance
increase your premium significantly if you are the
subject of multiple
claims. Some simple preventive measures will be cost-effective.
The bottom line is simple. Keep it clean.
Educate your staff. The money you save will be your own.