LEGAL BRIEFING - Late theater arrival irked about re-seating


Dear John,

My wife and I purchased tickets for a musical performance in advance. Unfortunately, we arrived about 10 minutes after the event had already begun. They sat us in the back after about another 10 minutes of standing in the lobby.

However, my tickets were for front-row seating. At intermission, we tried to move to our original seats, but we discovered that another party was already sitting in them. The usher would not let us have our seats and asked us to return to the ones in the back.

I feel that they owe us the price difference between the front row and back row seats, especially since they resold our tickets. Can I sue for damages?


Art Enthusiast

Dear Art,

Your situation has a blend of several competing issues. There is a contract between your and the venue. You gave them money in exchange for the ticket.

However, the other terms of the contract, if any, are unknown. You are saying that the ticket guarantees you the right to sit in a certain seat from a certain time until another certain time, namely the time of the performance. It does not sound like that would be the same argument you would have if the performance were cancelled because the performer was ill, because you would be staring at an empty stage.

The proprietor of the venue may agree with your claim of a right to sit in a particular seat from a certain time to another certain time.

However, the proprietor may argue that it was not a right but an obligation to be there. He may say that you breached the contract by showing up late. This argument might create a claim against you for damages.

The proprietor may say that the performance was inadequate because the performer had to look into an audience and see empty seats in the front row and felt discouraged and depressed by the lack of your appreciation for the artistry.

The proprietor may also say that the contract was just for the ability to watch the show and that the actual location of your seat was just suggested by the seat assignment. This appears to have been what happened.

Whether you can prove that the terms are as you say, or whether the proprietor will win, is something that cannot be known without presenting it to a judge for determination. The amount of damages, if any, also cannot be known until after all the claims and their merits have been evaluated.

There are some claims that should be advanced on principle. There are others that should not be advanced on different principles.

An overly-litigious society makes people fearful of lawsuits. Businesses react to this fear by factoring in potential damages and buying insurance against claims into the price of their products, such as tickets.

If the cost of your ticket increases, you may be reluctant to attend another performance. A life without music, even if it is from the back row, is not as wonderful, in my opinion, as a life full of music.

I hope your life is filled with music!


John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at


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