“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant knowingly invited my client to stay in a mansion inhabited by a homicidal spirit…”
The idea of an actual haunted house being the subject of a lawsuit is fairly amusing. But real-life haunted house attractions carry their own set of dangers that are anything but paranormal. Poorly lit stairwells, falling props, and overzealous actors can all cause injuries to visitors that go well beyond a good-natured scare.
There are over 1,200 haunted attractions in the U.S. that charge admission, says organization America Haunts. They estimate that the typical attraction can bring in an average of 8,000 guests a year.
All of this foot traffic can mean a high risk of unintended injuries. And while attendees assume some form of risk by entering a place meant to terrify them, haunted house owners and operators are not totally immune from liability. Foreseeable risks and gross negligence can both cause them to be responsible for the costs of injuries.
If you have been injured at an entertainment attraction or have liability questions, then call an experienced premises liability lawyer near you. Auger & Auger can provide you with a free consultation to discuss your legal options when you call (800) 559-5741 or contact us online today.
What Are the Biggest Injury Risks at a Haunted House Attraction?
There are a number of possible risks that can be present at any given haunted house attraction. They include:
- Tripping hazards, especially from loose cords or poorly lit stairwells
- Neglected infrastructure, such as loose handrails
- Impacts from falling objects, fan blades, or low-hanging props
- Hazardous materials, especially sharp objects, and glass
- Carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be a by-product of electrical generators and some smoke machines
- Injuries caused by actors portraying violent characters
- Violent crimes caused by a lack of security measures
- Smoke inhalation or burns in a building with inadequate fire safety measures
Are Haunted House Guests Liable for Their Own Injuries?
One unfortunate fact about haunted houses is that they are considered part of a “thrill-seeking” category of entertainment. The entire appeal of these attractions is that they can make people think they are in danger. Therefore, certain events related directly to the promised fear are likely to not be covered by liability laws.
This loophole in liability exists because of what is known as the “assumption of risk” doctrine. Assumption of risk means that a reasonable person would understand that there are some innate risks involved in visiting a haunted house.
Situations that might fall under this assumption of risk liability exemption can include:
- Slip and falls related to scares rather than an unintended hazard
- Medical conditions triggered by fear
- Injuries sustained during stampede situations triggered by frightened guests
- Superficial injuries caused by physical contact with actors
The test for whether or not the assumption of risk applies is to consider if the guest could have known about the risk just by the nature of the attraction. However, risks that the guest could not have predicted or had no knowledge about may fall under premises liability law — especially if the operator recklessly endangered guests’ health and safety beyond acceptable bounds.
When the Haunted House Operator Might Be Liable for Injuries
If you are hurt in a haunted house, don’t immediately think that assumption of risk bars you from recovering damages. Like any publicly accessible facility, haunted houses have a duty to protect guests from harm to the extent that a “reasonable person” would.
Owners and operators of public attractions have a responsibility to proactively identify and remove or warn about any foreseeable hazards. Common examples include exposed wiring, neglected staircases, and low overhead obstructions. Poorly lit public areas can also apply. Even though one expects dim lights in a haunted house, areas like parking, entrances, and public restrooms should be well lit.
Further, operators should not introduce genuine dangers, only the feeling of danger. No owner can set a real booby trap, for instance, but they can create props or scenery that mimic one.
When it comes to actors, most haunted houses have a “no contact” policy. Those that do often make guests sign waivers — but know that these waivers are not always airtight! For one thing, operators have a duty to vet every employee for their qualifications, their history of violent crime, or other factors that could mean they pose a genuine threat to guests.
If you are hurt in a haunted house, here are a few questions you can ask to infer whether you might have an injury claim:
- Was the injury hazard an intentional part of the haunted house experience?
- Was the injury caused directly by a fear reaction in yourself or nearby guests?
- Was it foreseeable that the hazard was very likely to lead to an injury, and were guests adequately warned about the hazard?
- Could an operator exercising ordinary care have identified the hazard and taken steps to prevent the injury?
- Was the injury directly caused by an employee’s actions or a grossly negligent failure to act?
Hospital Bills Can Be Scary, So Work With a Premises Liability Lawyer If You Get Hurt at a Haunted House
We go to haunted houses to be frightened by the idea of danger, but actual injuries are not what we sign up for. While there is some assumption of risk on the part of guests, operators still have a duty of care to be responsible, remedy foreseeable hazards, and hire staff that won’t pose a threat.
Around this time of year, we enjoy hearing about make-believe monsters, but some of the nastiest real-life monsters are wealthy business owners whose actions recklessly endanger guests yet who refuse to accept liability. Fight back against boogeymen with a personal injury lawyer who is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with businesses and their insurance companies in an effort to get you the compensation you need to move on with your life.
Schedule a free case review at no risk to speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer you can trust. Call (800) 559-5741 or contact us online to book your free appointment now.