Why Do Car Commercials Have Disclaimers?



We’ve all seen the warnings and disclaimers at the end of car advertisements, cautioning us against attempting risky activities. While it may seem like common sense to us, there have been instances where individuals attempted actions depicted in ads, leading to legal consequences. A notable case reached the Florida Supreme Court, shedding light on the complexities of such situations.

Case in Point: Soft Drink Commercial and Broken Neck

In the late 1980s, a popular soft drink company aired a commercial featuring young people performing stunts on their bicycles. In one scene, a boy rode his bike up a ramp, safely landing in a lake to the cheers of onlookers. Surprisingly, the commercial lacked any explicit warnings against attempting the stunt.

Tragically, a Florida teenager attempted to recreate the stunt after watching the commercial. He constructed a ramp on an embankment, rode his bike down, and ended up breaking his neck. In response, his family filed a lawsuit against the soft drink company, arguing that the company had a responsibility to discourage viewers from attempting such activities.

Legal Outcome: The Florida Supreme Court’s Ruling

In 1989, the Florida Supreme Court deliberated on the soft drink company’s liability. Strikingly, the court ruled that the company was not responsible, invoking the protection of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court deemed a commercial with such content as constitutionally protected speech. The First Amendment traditionally shields speech, with exceptions for instances like defamation and hate speech that incite violence.

Ongoing Use of Disclaimers in Commercials

Despite varying court decisions, disclaimers continue to be included in commercials. Companies exercise caution, preparing for worst-case scenarios. While the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of constitutional protection, cases in other jurisdictions may yield different outcomes. Companies opt for disclaimers to mitigate potential legal risks associated with viewer imitation of advertised activities.

In essence, the legal landscape surrounding TV advertisements remains nuanced, prompting companies to tread carefully and include disclaimers to safeguard against unforeseen legal implications.

This post was written by Kelly-Ann Jenkins of Jenkins Law P.L. Kelly-Ann is an insurance claims attorney. The information on this site is not intended to and does not offer legal advice, legal recommendations, or legal representation on any matter. Hiring an attorney is an important decision, which should not be based on advertising. You need to consult an attorney for legal advice regarding your situation. 

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