Is There Any Legal Value To Warnings Concerning Cellular Phone Dangers At Gas Stations?

IMG_0418 2After using a gasoline station in McLean, Virginia for years, I noticed for the first time this sign tucked away on the side on station. It is a sign that would seem to ignore reality since drivers routinely use cell phone and electrical devices (such as car radio, tablets, readers, and video players at gasoline stations. In light of such observed and common practice, what legal value does this sign have for the station.

Such signs are routinely posted to create a legal defense by triggering assumption of the risk or claiming that the sign makes accidents less foreseeable. In states that have decreased or eliminated the use of assumption of the risk in light of the rise of comparative negligence principles, such signs are often cited as a basis for the reduction of any award based on plaintiff’s conduct. It can also be cited as fulfilling a duty to warn business invitees of a latent risk.

However, if it is dangerous to use cellphones at gasoline stations, is this enough given the almost universal practice of making calls while pumping gas?

In Casas v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 201 F.3d 435, the Fourth Circuit considered a slip and fall where a warning was given in the form of a sign on the wet floor of the store. However, the Fourth Circuit noted that the court must still determine “whether the warning given was adequate under the circumstances.” This requires a consideration of “the number, location, and adequacy of the warnings given by defendant.” Is one sign sufficient warning? Indeed, is any sign sufficient warning if there is widespread violations of the rule? Clearly, the danger is not high given the extent of violations that can be observed at most stations.

This danger has been downplayed despite occasional stories of fires involving cellphone use.

Mythbusters did this segment on the claimed risk. However, some government offices maintain that there is a danger as with this warning in Canada.

23 thoughts on “Is There Any Legal Value To Warnings Concerning Cellular Phone Dangers At Gas Stations?

  1. My half blind guy, for whom I am guide dog, still drives a car once in a while. He also carries his cell phone and he is the last person to drive and yak at the same time. So when the cell phone rings I start barking and don’t let up until he hangs it up or fails to answer the ring due to my admonition.

    Cell phones pose more of a danger as a distraction than they do as a flare gun at a gas pump.

  2. OS: I think instead of a chain you can just drag a braided wire cable attached to the frame under the car or truck, purposely frayed at the road end to make a brush. There would be no (noticeable) noise at all.

  3. Of course, we have all seen by now the guy who lit a cigarette while pumping gas (in Georgia, I think). The fumes ignited seriously burning his wife. At least, he wasn’t using a cell phone.

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