Halloween is one of the most exciting and spooktacular events the year
– and it is an
event. Although October 31 is All Hallows Eve, the spooky night when costumed
youngsters prowl the streets for tricks and treats, the spirit of Halloween
encompasses the month, and Texas theme parks are happy to capitalize on
the fun. Haunted houses, dark mazes, monster concerts, zombie runs, and
more – your local theme park is the hot place to be for a “family-friendly”
But is your local “Fright Night” the stuff of nightmares? And
what are your legal options if you’re injured at a theme park?
Halloween Horror Stories
Countless people are injured at theme parks each year; however, these incidents
only make the news if someone is catastrophically wounded or killed. As
a result, most Americans are unaware of the dangers surrounding Halloween
decorations and attractions. Part of the problem is that Halloween horror
nights are designed to scare people, and some guests and employees take
this notion too far. “Scareactors” are very good at what they
do, and you’re likely to find them roaming the dimly lit areas of
a park, brandishing fake weapons and injuries.
The Problematic Attendee
Yes, guests do know what to expect, but it’s difficult to contain
a flight or fight impulse when Jason is coming at you with a bloody knife.
They are warned by website notes, signage, and advertisements, but they
still recklessly flee (into decorations and other guests) or decide to
take their chances by decking the actor. According to an article on
Behind the Thrills, “They come to an event to get scared, then get upset when an actor
does their job…we’ve even heard (and have seen) cases where
parents get upset that kids are being scared, decks or goes after an actor.
In other cases, it’s just people trying to be funny, and do something
to either ‘scare’ the actor, or just harm them. In other cases,
it’s fueled by alcohol, which is called ‘liquid courage’
for a reason.”
As you can see, a scared or careless attendee can be a danger to actors,
other park guests, and themselves.
The Problematic Attraction
A theme park owes a duty of care to both guests and employees. For example,
management needs to make sure that all parties are on the same page when
it comes to horror night expectations and safety. A scareactor can run
at a guest with a fake knife because that’s what the guest paid
for. The actor, however, should back away at a point; it’s a thin
line, but a guest should never feel like life or safety is actually being
threatened. A few years ago, a family in Illinois filed a personal injury
claim against Great America, a theme park that annually hosts a Halloween-theme
Fright Fest. A costumed park employee jumped out of a port-a-potty –
a place you think should be safe – and shot the plaintiff with a squirt
gun before giving chase. The targeted teenager screamed and ran until she
finally tripped and fell. The teenager sustained injuries, prompting her
father to file a claim. Also, a scareactor should never, under any circumstances,
physically touch or sexually assault a guest – two common scenarios
and the source of countless civil lawsuits.
There is another issue that needs to be evaluated: decorations and attractions.
Theme parks want to create a spooky environment, but they can’t
put their employees or guests in danger. In 2011, a 17-year-old part-timer nearly
died after being tangled in a noose at Creepyworld, a “scream park”
in St. Louis, Missouri. Countless visitors passed by as she struggled,
believing that it was a prank or part of the show.
To create a reasonably safe environment, management needs to review and
remove potentially dangerous attractions, check in on employees, lay down
strict ground rules for props, and periodically check for tripping hazards.
Theme Park Litigation
Unfortunately, there’s also a fine line when it comes to Halloween-based
litigation. Consider this scenario: A plaintiff pays to be scared and
is warned about specific hazards before entering the park. The plaintiff
is startled by a scareactor and falls, breaking their arm upon impact.
In this case, the court probably won’t hold the business owner liable
because the plaintiff was warned in advance, and the defendant couldn’t
predict their fear-based reactions.
However, this doesn’t mean that a plaintiff can’t recover damages
through civil litigation. If their injuries are due to employee (or employer)
negligence, then the usual standards apply. For example, in Dickinson v. Hustonville
Haunted House and Greg Walker, one of the scareactors startled a woman
so much that she jumped back in fright – and out of an open window
that was covered by a sheet. She broke four vertebrae in her back after
falling out of the second-story window.
There is a difference between the plaintiff who tripped in a maze and the
plaintiff who fell out the window:
negligence. But again, there is a very fine line, so if you’re injured or assaulted
at a theme park this Halloween, you need to explore your legal options
with a qualified attorney.
Discover Your Legal Options with The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC
personal injury lawyers at The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC if you or a loved one suffers injuries at
a Halloween-themed attraction this October. Our results-driven legal team
can investigate the incident, explain your legal options, and help you
negotiate a settlement that provides for your injury-related expenses.
Call The Stewart Law Firm, PLLC
at (512) 271-5112 to arrange a free consultation
with our experienced legal team.