Jim Porter: San Diego Haunted House sued for being too … scary?
December 17, 2015
A Haunted House is supposed to be scary. Can it be too scary, such that you can sue for being scared out of your wits?
Honest to God, that's our case today.
Haunted Trail in Balboa Park
The Haunted Trail is an outdoor haunted house-type of attraction in San Diego where actors in ghoulish costumes jump out of dark spaces often inches away from patrons, holding fake knives, axes, chain saws or severed body parts.
The characters frighten, startle and sometimes chase paying customers amid loud noises and flashing strobe lights, as the patrons go from one horror set to the next. It sounds a little more intense than the Haunted House at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
The patrons are given an orientation audio tape to view and some printed materials – probably written by lawyers.
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Tickets state, "This attraction contains high impact scares," and, "is not suitable for people with heart conditions or people prone to seizures…"
The 'Carrie Effect'
At the final scene along the trail, patrons hear chainsaws just before exiting through an opening in a chain-link fence seemingly at the end of the attraction.
But if you've seen the horror movie Carrie, you know what happens next – one last jolting scare.
When patrons have walked through the fence, they customarily regroup and begin regaling the highlights of their Haunted Trail tour when out of nowhere appears a chainsaw-wielding crazy man with a gas-powered chainsaw (chain removed), with the smell of a chainsaw and all, who comes after the patrons.
Many run, with the crazy man giving chase. Once in a while, around 10 or 15 out of 250,000, patrons fall and report being injured. You know where this is going.
Scott Griffin and his friends walked the Haunted Trail, and thinking they had exited, were standing "giggling and laughing" and saying "how fun was that?"
What Griffin didn't know was that the Haunted Trail's last scare was the "Carrie Effect" — a fake exit, then the final scare.
As Griffin put it, "A gentleman with a chainsaw came at me and just kept following me." Griffin ran, fell, injured his wrist and decided he'd scare the Haunted Trail folks. He sued.
The legal issue in the case was whether Scott Griffin "assumed the risk" of injury inherent in walking along a scary Haunted Trail.
The California Court of Appeal cited a case which we wrote about a few years ago where a woman was injured using bumper cars in an amusement park.
As the California Supreme Court then wrote, "You pretty much can't have a bumper car unless you have bumps … indeed, who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?"
Scared Out of His Wits
The Court of Appeal ruled for Haunted Hotel noting they informed patrons with a video and handouts.
"Patrons in a Halloween haunted house are expected to be surprised, startled, and scared by the exhibits. That is what Griffin paid money to experience. At bottom, his complaint here is Haunted Hotel delivered on its promise to scare the wits out of him."
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim's practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA's, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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