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La Sell v. Tri-States Theatre Corp. - 233 Iowa 929, 11 N.W.2d 36 (1943)


The necessity of a darkened theater does not excuse the proprietor or operator or owner from the duty to use ordinary and reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for its patrons, and that would require that the aisles, stairways and other places used by the patrons be kept reasonably lighted taking into consideration the purpose for which the theatre was used and having due regard for the safety of the patrons. The duty is that of exercising reasonable care, whether the business is comparatively safe or is extremely dangerous. Occupations, however important, which cannot be conducted without necessary danger to life, body, or limb, should not be prosecuted at all without all reasonable precautions against such dangers.


The patron, with her daughter and granddaughter, purchased tickets and entered into the darkened theatre in order to attend the movie then showing.  She alleged that, somewhat later, she lost her balance when her foot went to the aisle floor, and she fell forward, striking her head on the metal seat across the aisle. The patron claimed that defendant was negligent permitting an uneven condition in its floor to exist, over which patrons would be likely to stumble and fall, with insufficient lighting and without warning of the danger. Judgment was rendered for defendant theatre on a verdict by the jury. Plaintiff appealed and bases her right to a reversal upon errors of commission and omission in the court's instructions. 


Did the appellee exercise reasonable and ordinary care in the operation of its theatre?




The court reversed the trial court's judgment. The court held that the owner had a duty of reasonable, ordinary care in properly lighting all parts of the theater to which the patron was invited, and maintaining seats, aisles, stairways, and equipment in a reasonably safe and suitable condition. Moreover, the owner owed a duty to use reasonable care to give warning of any dangers that were hidden, or not reasonably observable in the exercise of ordinary care. The fact that partial darkness was essential to the conduct of the business required the owner to increase his care and watchfulness. Having been ushered to her seat, the patron was entitled to assume that means of access to and egress from it were not accompanied by any danger. The court also noted that two instructions improperly stressed testimony favorable to the owner but did not give equal, or any prominence, to the patron's testimony.

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