I've been participating in the (ongoing) private beta of Startups. Due to the volume of questions that have arisen on there concerning matters of law, I began wondering what liability there might be for those who post answers and/or StackExchange itself.
The age-old question Is there a Stack Exchange site for Law Questions? If not, why not? is somewhat relevant.
Having read over the network's terms of service in detail, I can't help feeling that they're (perhaps unsurprisingly) a little one-sided. To the extent that they are properly incorporated and binding (which I suspect is doubtful):
Limitation of liability (term 9) reads:
In no event shall Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, shareholders, employees, members, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) be liable with respect to the Network or the Services for (a) any indirect, incidental, punitive, or consequential damages of any kind whatsoever; (b) damages for loss of use, profits, data, images, Subscriber Content or other intangibles; (c) damages for unauthorized use, non-performance of the Network, errors or omissions; or (d) damages related to downloading or posting Content. Stack Exchange's and the Network's collective liability under this agreement shall be limited to three hundred United States Dollars. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitations and exclusions may not apply to Subscriber.
Its effect is further strengthened by the Warranty disclaimer (clause 5).
Notably, there is no attempt to exclude other subscribers' liability for anything similar. Thus if Alice follows the advice in Bob's post and it results in some damage to her, StackExchange have her agreement that she will not hold them liable but Bob is afforded no such protection.
Therefore Bob could be held liable to Alice for the consequences of his post.
Indemnity (term 8) reads:
Subscriber will indemnify and hold Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, employees, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) harmless, including costs and attorneys' fees, from any claim or demand made by any third party due to or arising out of Subscriber’s access to the Network, use of the Services, the violation of this Agreement by Subscriber, or the infringement by Subscriber, or any third party using the Subscriber's account, of any intellectual property or other right of any person or entity.
So not only might Alice sue Bob directly, but if she was to sue StackExchange then his indemnity to them could be called upon.
I wonder how many people have really considered the risks to which they are exposing themselves by answering questions on the SE Network. It is certainly making me nervous about answering any further questions on legal topics, but the same logic can be applied to any other subject matter. Surely the terms of service were not intended to discourage honest behaviour?
Of course, I understand why SE have placed clauses such as those above into their terms of service. I just think it must be possible to make them less onerous in the case of genuine and non-malicious attempts to help people resolve their problems—precisely the sort of behaviour that the community is trying to foster.