People of all ages enjoy haunted houses – until there’s an accident. Here’s what you need to know about seeking compensation for haunted house injuries.
The scare business is booming, with more than 1,500 haunted house locations across the country.
On top of that are an estimated 3,000 haunted houses run by charity groups every October. Each haunted attraction draws thousands of paying customers. ¹
As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
You may be wondering when a haunted house operator is responsible for injuries? When does the responsibility fall back on the victim?
It’s not easy to win a compensation claim for haunted house injuries, but don’t give up. You or your injured child may still be eligible for compensation.
Haunted House Accidents and Injuries
There are three types of popular haunted locations:
- Historical locations can include tours of historic homes and communities associated with ghost legends, and spending the night in haunted hotels, asylums, or penitentiaries.
- Professional haunted houses are popular venues in fixed-location theme and amusement parks.
- Amateur haunted houses are fund-raising events sponsored by local community theater groups, churches, booster clubs, and other non-profit organizations. They may include haunted mazes, traditional haunted “houses” and terrifying escape rooms.
While each haunted venue offers a uniquely scary experience, and the potential for uniquely unexpected injuries, the most common accidents can happen in any haunted house location.
Common Haunted House Injuries
Slip and falls: Haunted houses are dark. Dark is spooky. It’s also a lot easier lose your footing and trip on uneven floors, exposed electrical cords, and other obstacles.
Scare tactics: Actors in haunted houses play zombies, killer clowns, serial killers, and other threatening characters. Sometimes actors can go too far, grabbing and pulling visitors toward them for maximum scare effect. The force of being grabbed can injure unsuspecting and terrified visitors, as can twists, falls and other efforts to get away.
Carbon monoxide poisoning: Many haunted houses pipe in chemicals to create artificial fog. Without proper ventilation and filtration, carbon monoxide can quickly climb to a level unsafe for everyone inside.
Moving ride cars: Some haunted houses move visitors through the various sections with open-seating cars that run along a track. Accidents can happen because of operator error or a defective mechanical system. The cars may suddenly start or stop, knocking riders to the ground.
Exposed screws and other protrusions: Exposed nails and screws from hastily built walls and stages can result in cuts, scratches and puncture wounds. Props and mannequins can also have sharp protrusions. Broken or hidden guardrails can cause injuries when visitors bump into them.
Falling props: When props become unstable from repeated visitor contact or because they continuously move from one location to another, they can fall on visitors. Small children are especially vulnerable to props that sometimes weigh more than they do.
Trampling: Trampling can occur inside a haunted house when groups of frightened visitors all at once decide to run. Actors with chainsaws, coffins where actors suddenly spring up, and bloody scenes are among the reasons groups of visitors suddenly and decisively bolt, often pushing other visitors out of the way, into walls or props, or onto the ground.
Sexual assault: Although infrequent, there are reports of performers inside haunted houses who grope or touch visitors in sexually inappropriate ways.
How Injury Laws Affect Compensation
Some local authorities rigorously inspect haunted houses to meet fire and building safety codes, but many don’t. Not all locations require an amateur haunted house to have a permit or meet specific standards. Unfortunately, even with the strictest inspections, accidents still occur.
To succeed in a personal injury claim, it helps to understand some terms used by lawyers and insurance companies.
Assumption of Risk
This is a big issue when it comes to haunted house claims, and the main reason it’s so hard to win an injury claim if you’re hurt in a haunted house.
Assumption of risk means you willingly entered the haunted house to be scared. You knew it would be dark, that actors could jump at you, and that you or others might jump, scream, or run from fright.
To knowingly assume risk, you must have an idea of the possible harm that may result if you go ahead with an activity. Legally, there are two ways you can agree to assume a risk:
- Implied assumption doesn’t involve a contract or anything in writing. Instead, your willingness to engage in a risky activity is shown by your words or behavior.
- Express assumption means you signed an agreement that says you fully understand the risks and promise not to seek compensation for resulting injuries.
Example: Assuming a Risk of Seizures
If the haunted house has signs warning visitors that strobe lights are used inside, and you enter knowing you’re at risk for seizures, you won’t get far trying to sue if you fall and cut your face while having a seizure.
If you’re asked to sign a release or waiver of liability before entering a haunted house, you are making an express assumption of risk when you sign on the dotted line.
What is a Waiver of Liability?
Most organizations operating haunted houses, whether it’s the local band boosters or a big-name theme park, try to protect themselves from lawsuits by requiring visitors to sign a release form, also called a “waiver of liability.”
The word liability means responsibility. Waive is a legal term meaning to surrender or give up.
Signing a waiver of liability means you agree to give up the right to seek compensation from the haunted house owners or operators. In other words, you are releasing them from any blame if you’re injured.
Some waivers are very specific, listing every potential injury from broken bones to a heart attack. Other are very simple, general releases of “liability for harm.”
Just like any other business, state laws hold amusement park and haunted house owners to a very high duty of care, meaning they are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect visitors from harm.
By law, most owners must operate and maintain their attractions to protect visitors from unreasonably dangerous conditions that might result in injury. By unreasonable, the courts mean the harm is foreseeable.
Example: Foreseeable Risk of Harm
A visitor’s injury that results from falling over an exposed electrical cord is a foreseeable injury. A careful haunted house owner knows or should know, an exposed electrical cord could cause a visitor to trip, fall and be injured.
However, if the visitor deliberately left the marked visitor area and then tripped on a cord, the visitor’s injury isn’t foreseeable. They weren’t supposed to be there. As a result, the owner wouldn’t be liable for the visitor’s injuries.
When a foreseeable situation leads to injury, the haunted house owner has breached, meaning violated, their duty of care. When a visitor is injured because an employee did something wrong, or failed to take reasonable steps to maintain safety, the haunted house owner is negligent.
As a visitor injured by the negligence of the haunted house owner or employees, you’re entitled to compensation for your damages. Damages include your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and your emotional distress.
Evidence to Prove Your Injury Claim
The insurance company won’t pay your claim unless you can show the haunted house has an obligation to pay for your damages. It’s your responsibility to gather enough evidence to prove your claim.
Gathering evidence starts at the scene of your injury:
Ask to see the manager or owner of the haunted house. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t leave until you report your injury to someone in charge. It’s nearly impossible to make a believable injury claim after the fact.
Get the name and contact information for the owner, or the organization running the attraction, and ask for the contact information for their insurance company.
If you leave and come back hours or days later to report your injury, the person in charge can say your injury happened after you left the premises. Also, evidence of the negligence that caused your injury will be long gone.
For example, if your face and arm were cut when a prop fell on you, by the time you return to report it, someone may have fixed the prop, bolted it back in place, or removed it entirely.
Ask for a written incident report. Although you aren’t legally entitled to a copy, the haunted house operator may write an incident report for insurance purposes.
Get witness statements. Eyewitnesses can be crucial to your injury claim. Although family and friends can support your claim, independent eyewitnesses can make it much more credible. Independent eyewitnesses have no financial or personal interest in the outcome of your claim, so insurance companies take them much more seriously.
For example, an eyewitness heard one of the actors make rude and sexually suggestive comments. Additionally, the eyewitness saw the actor touch you. An uninvited touch, especially in a sexual manner, is a form of assault.
Ask the witness to write down a detailed version of what they saw and heard. Have them sign and date it. If you call 911 to report the assault and the police arrive, they will also take the witness’s statement and contact information.
Request security camera footage. Professional haunted houses, like at a big theme park, usually have multiple security cameras inside. Security cameras are in place primarily for safety and to protect owners from fake injury claims, but they’re just as important to prove your injury.
Ask for a copy of camera footage taken the date you were injured.
Take photographs, videos, and audio. Use your phone or another device to document the accident scene by taking pictures and video of the cause of your injury. Be sure to turn on the date and time stamp for each photo and video you take.
For example, if you became ill from breathing fumes inside a haunted house, try to video the machine spewing out fumes, if you can do it without further jeopardizing your health.
Another example is to record the voice of a performer who is making sexually inappropriate comments to visitors. There’s no law requiring you to tell the person you’re recording if you’re capturing public statements that can be heard by anyone within earshot.
Gather medical records and bills, receipts, and lost wage verification. Medical records are vital in proving your injury. The sooner you seek medical care after the injury the better.
A doctor’s prompt diagnosis can link your injury to the accident inside the haunted house. The doctor can also give a prognosis for your recovery. Ask the doctor to include the details of your diagnosis and prognosis in your written medical records.
Keep original receipts for all out-of-pocket medical expenses, and if you missed work, get a written letter from your supervisor verifying your lost wages to date.
Ways to Get Insurance Companies to Pay
If you are fully recovered from minor injuries, you can usually negotiate a fair injury settlement directly with the insurance company. Soft-tissue injuries like small cuts, scrapes, bruises, and simple sprains usually heal quickly without any complications.
Figure out a fair settlement amount by totaling the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for your pain and suffering.
Put your demand in writing and send it with copies of your medical bills and receipts, wage statement, and other evidence.
Look like a pro with this sample Personal Injury Claim Demand Letter.
Small Claims Court Pros and Cons
Don’t give up if the insurance company refuses to pay a fair settlement. Depending on the amount of compensation you think is fair, you can file a case in your local small claims court. When you file a lawsuit in small claims court, keep in mind:
- You must sue the haunted house owner, not their insurance company
- Small claims courts are meant to help individuals settle claims on their own
- Each state has a different monetary limit for the amount of a claim that can be brought in small claims court
- Most small claims courts only let you recover actual costs of your damages, not pain and suffering
- You don’t have to have an attorney to bring a case in small claims court, but when allowed, the haunted house owner will probably be represented by an attorney
When You Need an Attorney
Severe injury claims, like spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, or other injuries requiring extensive medical and rehab care are very risky to pursue without an experienced personal injury attorney.
Insurance companies will pull out all the stops to avoid paying the full value of high-dollar injury claims. They won’t hesitate to put the blame on you or argue that you waived your right to compensation.
A skilled personal injury lawyer knows how to defeat the insurance company’s tricks and save you from years of unnecessary heartache.
Don’t gamble your family’s financial future. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
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