Each year, a variety of accidents injure hundreds of visitors to haunted house amusements. To be competitive, owners of haunted houses continue to find more ways to make visitors’ experiences as realistic as possible, often blurring the line between fantasy and reality. While a visitor is inside a haunted house, any number of features can cause injuries.
Common causes of visitor injuries include:
Slipping and falling
Operators purposely dim the lights inside a haunted house. For visitors, the rapid change from sunlight to dark can disorient them. As a result, it’s much easier for visitors to lose their footing and trip on uneven floors, exposed electrical cords, and rubber matting. Ankle and knee injuries such as sprains, muscle strains and tears, and flexed or torn ligaments are quite common.
Many haunted house owners employ actors to portray villains or otherwise frightening figures. Sometimes, while performing their roles, actors can go too far. Some actually grab and pull visitors toward them for maximum scare effect. When unsuspecting visitors react by pulling away, they often fall into walls, onto props, and even onto other visitors.
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.
Some haunted houses use trams to move visitors through the various sections. Because these trams move visitors quickly through the haunted house, they only stop for a few seconds to permit visitors to enter and exit. The tram may start and stop suddenly, knocking unsuspecting riders to the ground.
Exposed screws and other protrusions
Exposed screws left over from removed or changed attractions can result in lacerations and bruises to visitors. Mannequins can also have sharp protrusions. Broken or hidden guardrails can cause injuries when visitors bump into them.
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 can occur inside a haunted house when groups of visitors all at once decide to run, usually after one of the features frightened them. 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.
Inappropriate employee behavior
Although infrequent, there are always reports of some actors inside haunted houses who grope or touch females in sexually inappropriate ways.
The Law and Haunted Houses
Local authorities rigorously inspect most haunted houses. Safety inspectors check inside and outside the attraction to make sure of visitor safety. Yet, even with the strictest inspections, accidents still occur. To succeed in a personal injury claim, you must have a working knowledge of the law as it applies to the haunted house and to you.
The courts have traditionally held amusement park and haunted house owners to a very high legal duty of care (obligation) toward visitors. 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.
For example, 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 can result in a visitor’s injury.
However, if the visitor deliberately left the clearly 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 an accident is foreseeable and an injury occurs, the haunted house owner has breached (violated) his duty of care (obligation to the visitor). The foreseeable event resulting in an injury is known as the owner’s negligence.
As a visitor injured by the negligence of the owner or his employees, you’re entitled to compensation for your damages. Damages include your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medicines, bandages, crutches, etc., lost wages, and your pain and suffering (emotional distress).
To succeed in your personal injury claim, you have to prove your case. To meet your burden of proof, you must have sufficient evidence showing the negligence that caused your injury was foreseeable, and it was the direct and proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your damages.
Evidence to Prove Your Injury Claim
Here’s what to do to meet your burden of proof and succeed in your injury claim:
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 the manager or owner. If you leave without reporting the incident, you have conceivably squandered your opportunity for compensation.
If you leave and come back hours, or even days later to report your injury, the person in charge can say your injury happened after you left the premises. In addition, the employees may have covered up or removed any evidence of negligence. For example, if a prop fell on you, cutting your face and arm, 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 one, in all likelihood someone will write it for insurance purposes. Most haunted houses have multiple surveillance cameras inside. They are in place primarily for safety and to protect owners from faked injury claims, but they’re just as important to prove your injury.
After you report the incident, someone from the company may contact you. That’s fine as long as you have the name and telephone number of the haunted house’s manager, the owner, or both. If someone from the insurance company doesn’t contact you to settle your claim within a week or two, call back and find out why.
Get witness statements.
Eyewitnesses can be crucial to your injury claim. Although family and friends can support your claim, independent eyewitnesses can make your injury claim much more credible. Independent eyewitnesses have no financial or personal interest in the outcome of your claim, therefore 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. You can use any available paper, even if it’s the back of an old envelope. 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.
Take photographs, videos, and audio.
Cell phones today can take photographs, videos, and audio recordings. Document the accident scene by photographing and videoing 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 while inside a haunted house, and can move closer to the machine spewing out the fumes without further jeopardizing your health, photograph and video it in operation.
Another example is to record an actor’s voice as he makes sexually inappropriate comments to other visitors. There’s no law requiring you to tell the actor you’re recording his voice if he’s making public statements to anyone within earshot. Those statements are clear admissions by and against the actor.
Gather medical records and bills, out-of-pocket expenses, 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 the type and duration of your recovery.
Make sure to ask the doctor to put her diagnosis and prognosis in writing so you can submit it to the insurance company. Also gather copies of your current medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and if you missed work, a written letter from your supervisor verifying your lost wages to date.
Dealing With the Claims Adjuster
Once you make contact with the insurance company, the representative will give you a claim number. A claims adjuster will call you within a week or so to initiate the investigation.
When you first speak with the adjuster, she will probably ask you for a recorded statement. Although some say you shouldn’t give a recorded statement, if you stick to the facts it’s okay to give one. If you refuse, it may delay your claim. Just make sure not to allude to your own negligence, if any. It’s always wise to speak with an attorney before giving a statement.
Tell the adjuster exactly what happened. Explain you’re in possession of evidence supporting your claim and offer to send copies to her. By the time the adjuster first speaks with you, she’ll have already spoken with the manager or owner of the haunted house, and will have a general understanding of the facts.
If the adjuster believes there’s merit to your claim, she’ll ask you to continue your medical treatment until it runs its course. At that time, send the adjuster your remaining medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and an updated verification of lost wages. Be sure the letter is on company letterhead and signed by a supervisor.
Do you need an attorney?
If the adjuster denies your claim, or the settlement offer is less than you believe is fair, you can file a lawsuit. If your damages are less than the maximum limit of your local small claims court, you can file your lawsuit there. If the amount is higher than the court’s limits, you must speak with a personal injury attorney.
Most injury attorneys won’t charge for an initial office visit. If one accepts your case, you won’t have to pay any fees or costs until, and unless, the attorney wins your case. Then the attorney will take anywhere from 33 to 40 percent of the settlement, depending upon your initial agreement.
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