Are Haunted Houses Liable for Injuries?
It is nearly Halloween, and that means candy on the grocery store shelves, trick-or-treaters in the streets and haunted houses around every corner. But haunted houses these days are more than scary figures jumping out and creepy music being piped through the maze. Some professional haunted houses offer extreme, graphic, immersive experiences complete with waivers and “safe words”. Neighborhood experiences can be expected to include attractions such as chainsaws, moving floors, and other potential hazards. Even if such attractions comply with fire and safety codes that require emergency exits, sprinklers and other measures, the fact remains that haunted houses are designed to simulate dangerous situations and may induce panic that results in injury or even heart attacks while going through a haunted house. This raises the question: can a haunted house be liable for a guest’s injury?
What is a Premises Liability Claim?
Premises liability claim basically includes someone getting injured while on your property and they then file a claim against you. This applies to anyone who is on your property legally.
Depending on the situation, almost anyone has the right to file a premises liability claim. It could be someone you invited onto your property, such as a neighbor or a visitor that you give permission to enter onto your property. This would include trick or treaters. Finally, anyone you invite onto your property to build your haunted garage could technically file a claim against you.
The possibility remains that, if a haunted house fails to adhere to basic safety codes ‒ that is, if it does not maintain adequate lighting and marked emergency exits ‒ it could be held liable for its patrons’ injuries. Further, if the haunted attraction fails to warn patrons about certain risks that they might encounter (uneven surfaces, fog, strobe lights, etc.), then it could be sued for any harm suffered as a result. The key then is to ensure that visitors to haunted houses know what to expect without spoiling any surprises.
If any visitors get hurt while on the property, they can file a claim against the homeowner’s policy. Hopefully, the insurance will pay the claim. If it does not, the premises liability lawsuit could be filed against the homeowner personally instead.
Scare Related vs. Premises Liability Related Injuries
Haunted house owners are liable for injuries that arise from onsite hazards and negligent actions. However, all haunted house visitors assume a certain amount of risk the moment they walk through the entrance. If your or your child’s injury resulted from normal, safe, and age-appropriate haunted house conditions, the courts will likely side with the haunted house. Anxiety attacks and other fear-related injuries will generally not stand up as fair personal injury arguments in court.
The concept of assumption of risk will only protect a haunted house up to a point. You may want to discuss a scare related claim with a personal injury attorney before writing off legal action.
Types of Haunted House Injuries
Owners often lay out haunted houses in a way that disorients visitors, creates sensations of unease, and directs the flow of traffic. If the owners and operators do not use extreme care during construction and employee training, they can create accident hazards and increase the overall risk of injury. Some of the most common types of haunted houses injuries include:
- Actor-Caused Accidents. Haunted house employees play a role, and their job is to scare visitors of the attraction. Some actors take their role too seriously and injure visitors in the process. They might grab, jump out and spook, or even chase you as you run away. These actions can cause a child or adult to fall backwards, into other visitors, or into a safety hazard.
- Trampling Incidents. During an extremely frightening moment, crowds may run together to get away from the startling image and knock down and/or trample unsuspecting children.
- Unsafe Premises Incidents. Unsafe premises can lead to a host of injuries, such as lacerations, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and burns. Haunted house operators must use reasonable care when constructing and maintaining the venue for the season. Improper ventilation, poorly secured props and exposed construction materials can all contribute to preventable injuries onsite.
The Assumption of Risk and the Haunted House
Sadly, the reason haunted house claims are so difficult to win is the legal theory known as the assumption of risk. You enter a haunted house willingly to be scared. You know that people will jump out at you, the lights are dim, and that you or someone else in the house could run away scared.
Despite the risks, you enter voluntarily. Therefore, you have legally assumed the risk of the activity. In many cases, haunted houses escape liability by using this defense – and victims are helpless to retrieve compensation.
While the issue of premise liability and assumption of risk complicate these cases, do not just assume you cannot seek compensation for injuries sustained in a haunted house. Haunted house owners are still required to provide a safe premise, and they cannot be grossly negligent.
What to Do After a Haunted House Injury
Always make sure younger children visit haunted houses with appropriate adult supervision and that older children go in groups. As soon as you learn of the injury, take these steps:
- Gather information. Take pictures/video and ask people nearby for their account of what happened, while collecting names and contact information of employees and witnesses.
- Report the Injury. Ask to file an incident report as soon as possible, and record the names of employees who talk to you about the incident. A haunted house employee may even serve as a valuable witness.
- Seek Medical Attention. Tell the physician about the incident and keep all medical records associated with the injury. A swift evaluation can link the injury to the haunted house and serve as a basis for your personal injury claim.
What Kinds of Damages Can You Face?
- Medical Bills. An injured guest is entitled to paid medical bills caused by the premise’s liability accident. This includes any future medical care that the plaintiff may need. Their doctor will testify as to what kind of medical treatment they may need as a result of their injuries.
- Lost Wages. If the plaintiff misses a significant amount of time from work, the owner may be held liable for these wages.
- Lost Future Earnings. If the plaintiff is not able to return to work after the injury, they may be able to sue for additional damages. For example, if they end up on permanent disability, they will be entitled to the difference they would have earned working full-time.
Contact an Experienced Injury Lawyer in Houston, Texas
Owners of haunted houses are looking to beat the competition though bigger, better scares and make money in the process. In most cases haunted houses are harmless fun, until someone is injured due to negligence. Since you do enter a haunted house voluntarily and willingly, you legally assume the risk.
Even so, if you are injured in a haunted house, you may have a case. The owners of the haunted house must provide a safe attraction and not negligent, which means you should seek compensation if you are injured in a haunted house. The premises liability law always holds property owners responsible for the proper maintenance of their locations and for the safety of their guests.
If you or a loved one has suffered injury at a haunted house and have questions about seeking legal action, call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.