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I'm pretty sure I have no contractual obligation to readers, but are there other grounds, such as negligence, on which I could be liable for posting an answer that ends up costing someone?

If I answer the question while at work is my employer exposed? What if I answer on "my own time", such as lunch time?

I don't see any disclaimers on the site. On the other hand, given that Usenet has been around for a while, has this been tested in a court somewhere?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 28 '09 at 17:47

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6 Answers

Everything posted here falls under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, which states:

5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer

UNLESS OTHERWISE AGREED TO BY THE PARTIES IN WRITING, LICENSOR OFFERS THE WORK AS-IS AND MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND CONCERNING THE MATERIALS, EXPRESS, IMPLIED, STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WARRANTIES OF TITLE, MERCHANTIBILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, NONINFRINGEMENT, OR THE ABSENCE OF LATENT OR OTHER DEFECTS, ACCURACY, OR THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE OF ERRORS, WHETHER OR NOT DISCOVERABLE. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OF IMPLIED WARRANTIES, SO SUCH EXCLUSION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.

6. Limitation on Liability.

EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED BY APPLICABLE LAW, IN NO EVENT WILL LICENSOR BE LIABLE TO YOU ON ANY LEGAL THEORY FOR ANY SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF THIS LICENSE OR THE USE OF THE WORK, EVEN IF LICENSOR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.

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That would be nice, but what evidence is there readers of the site are bound by this license? There's nothing in the FAQ, no T&C, etc. After searching 'creative commons' on this site, I found out that the 'cc-wiki' logo at the bottom of the page links to a licence on some extenal site. –  Anonymous Oct 31 '08 at 7:42
    
Is this effective? By contrast, Wikipedia states its licence terms on the front page. –  Anonymous Oct 31 '08 at 7:43
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When you post, you are submitting to the stackoverflow database, which then serves up the content under this license. It comes with a link to the license with disclaimer on every page. Case closed. :) –  steveth45 Oct 31 '08 at 15:44
    
OK, I'll look out for it. Thank you. –  Anonymous Oct 31 '08 at 19:05
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Readers are not bound by this license at all. If they take anything under copyright without permission or consultation of the copyright owner, however, they are breaking copyright law and weaken their legal standing. –  MSalters Mar 13 '09 at 14:20
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Doesn't mention loss of limb.... –  MPelletier Sep 9 '10 at 13:56
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I doubt that you'd be liable for an incorrect answer - but do remember not to post any code that belongs to your employer (without permission) even if you originally wrote it.

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In the US anyway, given that people or companies have been sued for the following things:

  1. seat belts that could not be disengaged underwater by an intoxicated person who drove a car into Galveston Bay (another person in the car was able to free herself)
  2. cookies that contained trans-fat
  3. beer that did not produce luck with the ladies (and gave the consumer a hangover, to boot)
  4. potential confusion between Tony the Tiger and Exxon's tiger logo
  5. that robbing a convenience store with a shotgun was caused by your organization's sexual and disability discrimination
  6. suing yourself (!) because you violated your own civil rights and religious beliefs when drunk

And the "Top Shelf" circumstance for getting sued:

  • that the large breasts from your strip club's dancer caused whiplash and mental anguish

So, yeah - I think you can get sued for something you say here, as well as for pretty much anything else you do in life (at least in the US). As far as the lawsuit being successful...

Numbers 1 and 5 were awarded damages (which may have been reduced or thrown out on appeal).

http://www.legalzoom.com/lawsuits-settlements/personal-injury/top-ten-frivolous-lawsuits

So be careful what you say, and be careful how you look at your neighbor.

That said, I think you're more likely to get sued for downvoting someone here... Some people take it personally.

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Not to mention the person who sued McDonalds when they burned themselves spilling coffee on their own lap they had just purchased from McDonalds drive-thru because they were not warned that it was hot. –  BoltBait Oct 30 '08 at 23:45
    
Yeah, that one's in the linked article, but I left it out because: 1) everyone's heard about that one, and 2) have you ever had McDonald's coffee?? That stuff is HOT as hell! Can't even drink it for like 10 minutes. I probably would have sued. –  Michael Burr Oct 30 '08 at 23:51
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I read an article about the coffee case recently, and considering the burns the plaintiff got were so severe I think they classified as 2nd degree burns, I think that the case was probably justified. I mean, that's some REALLY hot coffee! –  Sam Schutte Nov 14 '08 at 22:00
    
Also - excellent answer - +1. The laws in this country around civil litigation are a mess. –  Sam Schutte Nov 14 '08 at 22:01
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@BoltBait - everyone likes to whinge about that case, but the plaintiff got worse burns than if they had spilt liquid nitrogen or HCl on themselves, and both of those things require training courses to handle :P (I have only done one of those two things, but I've done it a lot. Oddly enough, never coffee.) –  detly Sep 9 '10 at 13:25
    
Let's see. Coffee: I've also read the cup was too flimsy, making it actively dangerous. Seat belts: some are difficult to open, and are thereby a potential danger. #5: I'd guess that the award was for discrimination, not robbery. Not to mention that there are hundreds of millions of people in this country, not all perfectly rational, and so there's got to be thousands that will file any sort of lawsuits, so there will be plenty of frivolous ones to list, particularly if you allow suits that were thrown out of court. –  David Thornley Sep 9 '10 at 22:05
    
The click-bait article you linked to is misleading. And its articles like that one, that encourage frivolous lawsuits in the first place, because those articles give the illusion that anyone can hit the frivolous lawsuit jackpot and become the next winning multi-millionaire. The convenience store robber for instance, he actually didn't get a single penny, and never will. And the burned old lady (mentioned in that article, but not in your post), she wasn't the first one to get severely burned. Many other people got burned before her and complained formally, but McDonald never changed a thing. –  Stephan Branczyk Sep 20 '11 at 11:49
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Any non-lawyer who posts any answer to this question will be sued for practicing law without a licence.

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+1 funny... Wait, was it supposed to be? –  tsilb Oct 31 '08 at 0:13
    
Yup. I'm not a lawyer. –  Windows programmer Oct 31 '08 at 0:16
    
My answer should have been community wiki though. –  Windows programmer Oct 31 '08 at 0:17
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IANAL, YMMV and so on, but being able to sue somebody over advice given here, on IRC, on a weblog or on Usenet is like suing somebody for lying on a casual conversation in a bar after a couple of beers.

I really doubt there is a law somewhere in the world allowing such a thing. If anybody had to be sued, I guess it would be the guy who followed, without second thoughts, bad advice received from strangers and used it in a critical system.

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They certainly can sue you. No doubt about that. But it would probably be dismissed. –  Sam Schutte Nov 14 '08 at 21:56
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  1. Any incorrect answer is likely to be downvoted quickly, so it would be irresponsible for it to be accepted. Your lawyer can argue a negligence on their side.
  2. The discovery process to prove it was really you that posted that answer would be quite hard, unless SO keeps logs of which user connected from what IP.
  3. There's no contractual obligation between you and the question author. You are not obliged to provide any answer to their question, nor are you obliged to provide the correct answer.
  4. It is not clear under which jurisdiction should any potential lawsuits be. If you live in Europe and the question author in Russia, I doubt you could be sued for an information provided on a website operated by a company located in US.

In case you decide to sue me because somebody actually successfully sued you for providing a stupid/wrong answer in the good faith based on my answer, here's my disclaimer:

I am not a lawyer and this answer should not be constituted as a legal answer. This posting reflects my personal opinions and in no way should be constituted or interpreted as an official statement from my employer. This posting is provided AS IS and NO LIABILITY IS IMPLIED for any damages resulting from any actions or lack of such on your side based on this posting. Posting intended for legal residents of the planed Earth 18 and older. Void where prohibited. You agree that any disputes arising as a result of this post would be decided in the court of law under the jurisdiction of the State of Washington. Consult with your legal representative before you accept this answer, vote it up or down or in general post anything on the SO web site.

:-)

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Stackoverflow need the ability to have "signatures" so that I can put that disclaimer in my signature. (Not really, one of the reasons I like SO is the total lack of signatures littering up the place.) –  BoltBait Oct 30 '08 at 22:44
    
Yes, I agree, SO does quite a good job on keeping the automatic noise to the minimum. –  Franci Penov Oct 30 '08 at 22:50
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