I went to the symphony concert the other night and this guy in front of me was blabbing the whole time. I kept hoping Pachelbel’s canon would take him out, but no such luck. Can I sue?
I have to admit that I tend to speak during performances. Often, I find myself unable to wait to share an observation with my wife about some aspect of the performance. Fortunately, I have learned how to whisper, which creates the illusion that I am disturbing no one other than my wife.
Many people would like to be able to sue others for breaches of social contracts. If this were possible, the courts would be full of complaints about Christmas lights still up after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Fortunately, even though I would miss the revenue generated from increased litigation, we can only sue for recognized wrongs for which there is a remedy.
You may argue that the man was disturbing your peace and that you should be entitled to compensation for this. While it may be true that your peace was disturbed, it must also be true that your perception of the situation was reasonable.
For this, the best evidence would be to determine what other people were doing about this man’s blabbing. Did the person in front of him turn around and shush the man? Did his companion lean over and say, “Save your comments for later?” More importantly, did the manager of the auditorium get involved?
These will help to determine whether you are reasonable in your claim.
If you were to prevail, you would then need to calculate your damages. The logical first step would be to ask what amount you paid to attend the performance. Did you pay for parking, coat-check, a program, rent opera glasses, etc.?
From that, you would have to deduct for certain things, such as the amount of performance that was undisturbed. Did you keep the program and opera glasses?
More importantly, you may have a duty to decrease your damages. Did you shush the man, attempt to move, change seats, alert the management?
If your frustration got out of control, it is possible that you thumped the back of his head (stranger things have happened). If this were the case, he could have a claim against you for assault.
If you decided that you were unable to stand the performance any longer and left in the middle, there would be a question about whether he would have to compensate you for all of the performance or part.
If part, which part, the part you missed or watched? If both, would they be compensated at the same rate? After all, you saw part of the performance regardless of the ability to attend to it. Should he have to pay you for the part you saw at the same rate as the part you missed?
Should he have to compensate you for your decision to leave when simply saying “shush” would have gotten you peace?
As you can see, the situation is quite complex. Determining the outcome would require significant preparation and research.
My best recommendation is to open a nice bottle of wine, if so inclined, dim the lights and listen to a recording of the music.
While you may be angered about the man’s actions, some say that music soothes.
Tra La La,
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. Have a question? Ask John at email@example.com.