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Halloween Creates Some Interesting Legal Issues

by | Oct 31, 2023 | Uncategorized |

The other day, someone asked me what would happen if, while visiting a Halloween haunted house, a monster jumped out scaring the visitor so much that the visitor then punched the monster in the nose.  I admitted that I did not know (nor had I really considered the issue).  I have to say, the question intrigued me.  As it turns out, there are quite a few “Halloween” cases out there.  So, without getting into the legal issues much (after all, we’re only interested in the silly facts), here is some of what I found.

Haunted Houses

Going to a Halloween haunted house can be a lot of fun.  Large amusement parks may also stage a Halloween fest with park employees dressed as scary characters who then jump out to “frighten” patrons.  If a patron is frightened and injures him or herself, can the “haunted house” operator be sued for those injuries?

In Munoz v. Six Flags St. Louis, LLC, 670 S.W.3d 239 (2023), a patron went to Six Flags “Fright Fest”, a Halloween-themed event.  The patron knew and appreciated she would get “surprised, startled, scared, and frightened” and the patron understood that people who are suddenly “surprised, startled, scared, and frightened” may have different and unpredictable reactions.  During the event, a scary clown jumped out of nowhere and started chasing her.  The patron ran for about ten seconds and tripped over an unseen curb injuring herself.  The court rejected the patron’s claim because she “assumed the risk” that she could become injured by frightened patrons running from park employees dressed in scary costumes.

In Griffin v. The Haunted Hotel, Inc., 242 Cal. App. 4th, 194 Cal. Rptr.3d 830 (2015), actors in scary costumes jumped out of dark spaces holding scary props for the purpose of frightening the patrons.  After seemingly exiting the attraction, an actor brandishing and revving a gas-powered chain saw (the blade had been removed) came after the patron.  The patron was frightened because he thought the attraction was over.  As the patron turned away, he fell and suffered a broken wrist.  In rejecting the patron’s claim, the court said the “very purpose of ‘The Haunted Trail’ was to frighten patrons” and that “[a]t bottom, his complaint here is that Haunted Hotel delivered on its promise to scare the wits out of him.”

Provocative Halloween Costumes in the Workplace

Despite what Cady from “Mean Girls” says about Halloween, some costumes can be trouble for employers.  In Devane v. Sears Home Improvement Products, Inc., 2003 WL 22999363 (COA Minn.), the plaintiff came to work on Halloween wearing a doctor costume.  The plaintiff’s boorish co-worker unbuckled his pants, pointed to his groin, said to the plaintiff “Here Doctor.  It hurts here.”  The court agreed that this incident, along with numerous others, constituted sexual harassment and created a hostile work environment.

Right to Insult Your Neighbors

It seems as if Halloween can also bring out the worst in neighbors.  In Purtell v. Mason, 527 F.3d 615 (7th Cir. 2008), apparently some homeowners were tired of their neighbor parking a 38-foot RV camper in front of their house.  So, the neighbors got an ordinance passed which banned parking large RVs in the driveway.  Of course, this did not sit well with the RV owners.  So, that Halloween, the RV owners placed “tombstones” in their yard which referenced some of the offending neighbors by name and contained a “year of death” corresponding to the neighbor’s street address. For example:

Bette wasn’t ready                                            Dyean was known for lying
But here she lies                                               So she was fried.
Ever since that night she died,                          Now underneath these daisies
12 feet deep in this trench,                                Is where she goes crazy!
Still wasn’t deep enough                                                    –1680
For that wenches stench!

The police were called and one neighbor took exceptional offense at his wife’s name appearing on a “tombstone” so a bit of a ruckus ensued.  The police told the homeowner to remove the tombstones or he would be arrested for disorderly conduct.  The homeowner initially refused to remove the tombstones but after being handcuffed, reluctantly agreed to remove them.  After which, he sued the police department for civil rights violations.  As an aside, the appellate court included some pictures in its opinion.

Happy Halloween!