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Are Theme Park “Fright Nights” Safe?

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” horror adventure.

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

Contact the 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.

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