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Trick or Tort: Injury cases that turned Halloween festivities into a legal nightmare

Trick or Tort: Injury cases that turned Halloween festivities into a legal nightmare

Halloween is a time for silly costumes, candies, and Michael Myers movies binge fest.
If Halloween movies have taught us anything, it’s that jack-o’-lantern festivities can turn into a real nightmare. It’s all fun and games inside a horror house until a chainsaw-wielding extra shows up for one final scare. Then it becomes a season of personal injury lawsuits.

How scary is too scary?

Customers buy tickets to a haunted house for one reason only — to get scared to within an inch of their life. That’s exactly what the Haunted Trail in San Diego delivers.

Like many of the haunted house’s guests, Scott Griffin and his friends were wildly entertained by the Haunted Trail. While making their way toward the exit, they were treated with one last “Boo!” by an actor in Leatherface garb. Fearing for his life, Scott ran, fell, and broke his wrists.

It’s a scene straight out of a slasher film except that victims in slasher films rarely get a chance to take their injuries to the court, which is what Scott did. He sued the Haunted Trail for negligence and assault for an undisclosed amount.

The Haunted House, stating that there is an inherent risk in paying an establishment to scare the bejesus out of you, responded with a motion to dismiss the case. And the judge agreed.

The Florida Chainsaw Mishap

In 1998, 57-year-old Cleanthi Peters and her 10-year-old grandchild entered Hell’s High, a haunted house in Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween Horror Nights. The studio’s fright festival was so good that it won awards for Best Halloween Event — clearly, it was not your average carnie horror house.

As Cleanthi and her grandkid were reaching the end of the trail, a Leatherface-wearing actor (yet again) decided to spice up their experience by threatening them with a fake chainsaw. While being chased by “Leatherface,” they slipped on the floor near the exit door. Instead of helping the two — who slipped because of moisture from the mist used to keep the place cool — Leatherface continued to wave the chainsaw in their faces.

Like many chainsaw chases, this one did not end up on a cheerful note.

The “inherent risk” of entering a theme park haunted house does not involve slipping and falling due to a prop. Because of that, Universal Studios was faulted for neglecting to keep the premises safe for guests. Ms. Peters’s suit against Universal Studios has been cited as frivolous by several listicles, but that’s not the case. It’s a legitimate slip-and-fall case that was settled out of court.

Jason Goes to Court

Like any Halloween enthusiast, Gracie Durmon paid good money to experience the thrills of a make-believe serial killer chase in a cornfield. In 2002, she paid admission to the MaiZE, a Louisiana cornfield maze created by Michael and Lei Lani Billings.

The MaiZE is a nice twist to the usual haunted houses and is set in an actual cornfield, but it’s not a party until a chainsaw-wielding actor shows up.

While navigating her way out of the maze, Grace heard the whir of a familiar implement and ran for her life. A Jason Voorhees-looking maniac chased her while she was exiting one of the field’s three main areas. Because the field was muddy, she fell and broke her leg while trying to run away from the hockey mask-wearing mascot.

She and her husband brought suit against the Billingses and their insurer for damages. According to her lawsuit, the Billingses were to be blamed for the “unreasonably dangerous condition” of the field.

Unfortunately for the Durmons, the court did not see it their way. That’s because, as intricate as the MaiZE was, Gracie knew what she was getting herself into when she entered the field of terror.

The primary assumption of risk does not mean haunted houses and similar establishments can get away with murder — or in these cases, causing injury to paying guests. People pay for a ticket to get cheap scares, but they certainly wouldn’t pay for costly injuries. If you believe you’re entitled to claim damages caused by a Jason Voorhees wannabe in a house of horror, call Seattle personal injury attorneys Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams.