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Vol. 5, Iss. 11
November 9, 2016

Happy Belated-Halloween: From Boo To Sue – Part 2
Update On Haunted House Liability

The October 30, 2013 issue of Coverage Opinions featured “From Boo To Sue: Are Haunted Houses Liable For Scaring Their Visitors?” The article examined whether a visitor to a haunted house can recover for an injury sustained on account of being scared. In all five cases that I located on the subject, the injured patron was not able to recover as the court considered the unique nature of a haunted house. [Here’s the eeriest factor -- all five were from the Court of Appeal of Louisiana.] So the moral of this tale was clear. You go to a haunted house expecting to (and paying to) be surprised, startled and scared by the exhibits. You have the right to complain when the experience is not scary. But there is no complaining when you get what you asked for.

This 2013 article was a fun one and was picked up by The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Law 360 and the ABA Journal Tort Law Blog.

Cut to three years later and it’s time to see what’s been happening when haunted houses and court houses come together. I was able to locate just one decision, since the time of “From Boo to Sue” (Part 1), that addressed a haunted house’s liability for injury to a patron – on account of the visitor being scared. However, given that, prior to 2013, there had only been five, I was shocked (and thrilled) to find even one.

The facts of Griffin v. The Haunted Hotel, Inc., 242 Cal. App. 4th 490 (2015) are succinctly stated by the court: “In October 2011 appellant Scott Griffin purchased a ticket to experience ‘The Haunted Trail,’ an outdoor haunted house type of attraction where actors jump out of dark spaces, often inches away from patrons, holding prop knives, axes, chainsaws, or severed body parts. After passing what he believed was the exit and ‘giggling and laughing’ with his friends about how much fun they had, Griffin unexpectedly was confronted by a final scare known as the ‘Carrie effect’—so named because, like the horror film Carrie (MGM 1976), patrons are led to believe the attraction is over, only to be met by one more extreme fright. This was delivered by an actor wielding a gas-powered chainsaw (the chain had been removed), who approached Griffin, frightened him, and gave chase when Griffin ran away. Griffin was injured when he fell while fleeing. Griffin sued The Haunted Hotel, Inc., which operates The Haunted Trail, alleging negligence and assault.”

Griffin lost. He assumed the risk. The court explained: “The risk that a patron will be frightened, run, and fall is inherent in the fundamental nature of a haunted house attraction like The Haunted Trail. Moreover, on this record there is no evidence creating a triable issue Haunted Hotel unreasonably increased the risk of injury beyond those inherent risks or acted recklessly.”

The court also denied Griffin’s argument that his injuries were not caused by his reaction to “fun fear,” being “the purpose for why he and others go to such scare events.” Griffin argued instead that he was fearful of the “real, actual danger of physical injury that an irresponsible employee was creating by mishandling a chainsaw.”

The opinion is lengthy, and interesting, and gets into a whole bunch of issues about the risks of The Haunted Trail and theories of liability, etc. But it can be summed up by these two lines: “[T]he point of The Haunted Trail is to scare people, and the risk that someone will become scared and react by running away cannot be eliminated without changing the basic character of the activity. As the trial court aptly noted, ‘[W]ho would want to go to a haunted house that is not scary?’”

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