An estimated 108.4 million people watched the Super Bowl last year, which actually was a slight drop from the year before. So even if you're not into football (American football, that is), there's no denying its importance in American culture and economics. And when anything influences the lives (and pocketbooks) of so many Americans, even for one day, it stands to reason that laws -- and lawyers -- will be involved.
Here are our Top 10 legal tips, in no particular order, for die-hard football fans, casual observers, bars and restaurant owners, and anyone else swept up by the frenzy of the Big Game:
1. Gambling: About half of all American adults bet on the Super Bowl -- even though gambling is illegal in most states. But some allow an exception for "social gambling," if bets are made in a purely social context. Unless you're risking big stakes and going through a bookie, you probably have nothing to worry about. But use discretion, OK?
2. Liability for drunken guests: Let's be honest, people often drink more than usual on Super Bowl Sunday. We don't judge -- but the law does. Making sure your guests either remain sober or have a designated driver can protect you from social host liability should an intoxicated guest get into an accident.
3. Liability for drunken patrons: Bar and restaurant owners can also be held liable for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons if they fail to cut them off. See Dram Shop Laws to learn more.
4. Social media: Remember to use social media cautiously if you're hosting a Super Bowl party. Actions like tagging someone without their permission, sharing embarrassing photos, and posting incriminating details (such as "celebrating" Washington and Colorado's new pot laws outside of those states) can lead to potential consequences.
5. Broadcast rights and trademark law: Millions of bars, restaurants, and private homes will broadcast the Big Game this year. But charging admission is strictly prohibited, as is the unauthorized use of the trademarked term "Super Bowl" to sell goods and services. Sure, you can email invitations to your "Super Bowl Party," as long as you're not using the term for a commercial venture.
6. Trash-talking and employment law: Let's say you're pulling for the Seahawks, but your boss has been a die-hard Broncos fan all her life. If you start trash-talking your boss after Peyton Manning is sacked for the fifth time, she may fire you without much repercussion. That's right, Seahawks fans are not a protected class.
7. Injuries at the stadium: For the extremely small minority of fans who actually will be attending the game in balmy New Jersey, watch for patches of ice and falling icicles. But rest assured that the stadium owners are legally required to maintain a safe venue for fans. Some hazards should be expected -- but as long as the dangerous spots are clearly marked or cordoned off, they're off the hook for lawsuits.
8: Tailgate party injuries: Similarly, stadium owners can potentially be held liable for injuries that occur during a pre-game "tailgate" party (based on the legal theory of premises liability). But individuals also may be held liable for tailgate party mishaps.
9: Scalpers and ticket scams: Sure, $5,900 might seem like a bargain for four Super Bowl tickets (I'll watch it on TV for free, thank you). But ticket scalping is strictly prohibited. One of the best suggestions for protecting yourself? Do not wire money in exchange for tickets.
10: Liability waivers: The NFL giveth and taketh away. Participation in promotions, contests, and even its "NFL Experience" series of kid-friendly events prior to the Big Game requires the signing of a liability waiver. Even unpaid volunteers must sign away their rights to sue in case of an injury or death.
Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, remember to have fun this Super Bowl Sunday, whether or not you plan on watching the game (and chances are, you probably will).