How to Avoid the Legal Terror of a Liability Claim

Clients can avoid liability claims by putting safety first.

From screams of terror to ghastly ghouls and monsters, haunted houses and hayrack rides are among the most popular Halloween pastimes. Unfortunately, such events can sometimes open the door to legal liability claims. However, haunted attractions cannot be held liable for achieving their stated objective: scaring visitors.

In the case of Mays v. Gretna Athletic Boosters Inc., a plaintiff ran into a cinder block wall after being frightened by a monster lurking in the haunted house she was visiting. The plaintiff injured her nose.

In another case, Bonanno v. Continental Casualty Co., the plaintiff claimed she was injured by other haunted house visitors who were fleeing from a performer dressed as a devil.1

Finally, in Galan v. Covenant House New Orleans, the plaintiff alleged she fell and injured her head after being scared by a character dressed as Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame.1

In all of the above cases, courts ruled that the very nature of a haunted house is to frighten its visitors. In Mays v. Gretna Athletic Boosters Inc., the court ruled that the dark conditions and frightening displays described by the plaintiff were all common elements of such attractions. The court ruled similarly in Bonanno v. Continental Casualty Co. And in Galan v. Covenant House New Orleans, the court once again cited the naturally surprising nature of haunted houses to rule in the defendants’ favor.1

While businesses can avoid legal liability claims when it comes to scaring visitors, cases have arisen in which plaintiffs were awarded for injuries sustained while visiting Halloween-themed attractions.

In Holman v. Illinois, courts awarded damages to a grandmother who injured herself on a misplaced, low-seated bench while visiting a haunted house with her grandson. A similar situation arose in Fairchild v. Drake, in which the plaintiff was injured after tripping over a low-hanging rope guardrail.1

In the above instances, the haunted attractions were found liable for damages because of physical defects, not because of the shocking nature of haunted houses.

The following can be considered foreseeable injuries:2

  • Slipping and falling: Haunted houses should be wary of uneven floors, exposed electrical cords, or rubber mats that can result in lower body injuries such as sprained or broken ankles.
  • Carbon monoxide: Artificial fog piped into some haunted attractions can harm visitors without proper ventilation.
  • Moving trams: Some haunted attractions use trams to transport visitors from one station to another. These trams can sometimes start and stop suddenly, resulting in falls and possible injuries.
  • Exposed screws or nails: Hardware left in the open can cause cuts or bruises. These can sometimes be found in scenery, mannequins, or handrails.
  • Falling props: Owners should ensure all props throughout a haunted house are secured and in working order.
  • Inappropriate employee behavior: While infrequent, inappropriate behavior by haunted house employees has been reported. This can result in criminal charges against the employee, and possibly a lawsuit against the owners.

Ghosts and goblins may give patrons a fright, but the real terror for a business is a lawsuit resulting from negligence. Should your client face a liability claim resulting from a haunted house-related incident, ensure the business did all it could to avoid or correct any harmful physical defects. Otherwise, terror likely awaits in the courtroom.

This article is for general information purposes only.

CITATIONS

1Moar, Daniel B. “Case Law from the Crypt: The Law of Halloween.” New York State Bar Association Journal 83.8 (2011): 10-17. Goldberg Segalla. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

2Casili, Anthony P. “Claims for Injuries Inside a Haunted House.” Injury Claim Coach. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

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