Depending on state law, you may or may not be entitled to compensation for an injury at a haunted house or on a hayride.
Every year, professional and amateur haunted houses and spooky hayrides pop up. America Haunts, a haunted-attraction association, estimates there are more than 1,200 haunted attractions charging admission fees in the U.S. There are also more than 300 amusement parks hosting Halloween events and over 3,000 charity attractions over Halloween weekend.
Given the thousands of Halloween events people can attend each year, it is no wonder accidents happen. But who is responsible when someone falls backward, hits their head, and sustains a concussion in a haunted house? What are the legal options if a child falls off the haunted hayride and breaks a wrist?
Can I Sue for a Haunted-House Injury?
You may benefit from speaking to a local personal injury attorney who has extensive experience with premises liability law. Whether or not you can sue after a haunted-house accident depends on the facts of your case and the law of the state where the attraction is located.
If a hazard on the property caused you or your child harm, then you may have a valid claim.
If you or your child’s careless or reckless actions were predominantly responsible for the accident, you might not have a strong case.
Is There Proof of Negligence at the Haunted House?
Whether or not you can pursue compensation may depend on whether there is evidence of negligence.
Property owners, managers, and commercial tenants are typically responsible for maintaining reasonably safe premises for their business customers and social guests. You will need to determine your state’s particular premises liability law and property owner and tenants’ duties.
After being hurt at a haunted house, hayride, or other sinister attraction, you need to gather evidence regarding whether the attraction was safe. A lawyer is often helpful in conducting such an investigation.
Haunted Attractions Need to Remove Foreseeable Risks
Based on premises liability law—which varies by state—the property owner, manager, or tenant needs to inspect the property for possible hazards. When an owner or manager identifies any hazards, they need to repair them, warned patrons, or make them inaccessible.
Evidence the owner or operator failed to take these steps may support a claim for compensation.
Haunted House Licenses, Inspections, and Safety Codes
When investigating a haunted house or other attraction, it is important to look for:
- Whether an attraction needed and had the proper license;
- Whether an attraction needed and had been inspected; and
- Whether an attraction adhered to all relevant health and safety codes.
Common Defenses Against Haunted House Injury Claims
Two reasons it is difficult to successfully bring a claim against a haunted attraction are:
Assumption of Risk
Depending on your state law and facts of the case, an assumption of risk defense may successfully insolate owners and operators from liability—though not always.
Assumption of risk means you or your child entered a Halloween attraction willingly and knowing there would be risks. You know the actors of the attraction will try to scare you. You could run in the dark and trip over something. You could bump into someone.
This defense essentially says you knew there was a chance you could get hurt, and you accepted it.
A liability waiver is a document that states you release the owner or operator from liability if you are injured at the attraction.
At least 46 states accept a well-written waiver that was voluntarily and knowingly signed by an adult as a defense against negligent conduct, according to Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. Twenty states have strict standards a business must meet for the waiver to be effective. A few states refuse to accept these waivers as a defense at all.
Some waivers are small print on the back of a ticket. Whether or not a court accepts the fine print as a defense depends on state law. In some states, like Arizona, the jury decides if a document is a valid waiver. In others, the judge decides the validity of a waiver before a jury makes a final ruling.
“Liability waivers on the back of a ticket are not very effective or not likely to be upheld, at least in Arizona,” according to attorney Lincoln Combs of Gallagher & Kennedy. “The Arizona state constitution requires the jury to decide the issue of a liability waiver at trial. I don’t think most jurors would find that the boilerplate fine print on a ticket, which most people don’t even notice much less read, would bar a meritorious claim.”
A more specific liability waiver you were required to sign before entering an attraction may lead to a decision in favor of the haunted house.
“A liability waiver where the person was asked to read it and sign is much more likely to be upheld,” said Mr. Combs. “Jurors and judges are familiar with such waivers. We all are frequently asked to read and sign them, even if most of us don’t pay them much attention.”
You may benefit from talking with a lawyer about whether a liability waiver was present in your case and whether it may be an effective defense against your claim.