Haunted houses are designed to frighten people. Every so often, unfortunately, someone will die during or after a visit to one of these places. It's understandable that the family members of the decedent will want to hold the operator responsible for the person's death, but here are three reasons why you may lose your wrongful death claim against a haunted house.
The Assumption of Risk
Although most haunted houses are typically not as scary or risky as skydiving or bungee jumping off bridges, people who visit them are still assuming some risk of an adverse outcome occurring. After all, the entire purpose of a haunted house is to scare visitors. Therefore, visitors assume the risks associated with being afraid, and operators have generally been absolved of liability for injuries that occur as a result of someone reacting in a strange way to that fear.
For instance, the court ruled in favor of the defendant in a 1973 Louisiana case involving an 84-year-old woman who fell after the image of a person dressed as the devil was projected in the room she was standing in. The court's reason for the ruling was that the woman assumed the risk that she would be scared and pushed around while in the haunted house.
The Duty to Prevent Own Injuries
Haunted houses have a legal obligation to ensure the premises are safe for people to enter and to warn visitors of any possible hazards they may encounter while in the facility. At the same time, people also have a duty to prevent their own injuries. If a person knows he or she has a weak heart, for example, then they have a duty to take care and avoid situations where they could literally be scared to death.
For instance, a teenage girl died shortly after visiting a haunted house in 2010. The girl had asthma and was allergic to several substances. The haunted house she visited pumped an artificial fog and an assortment of scents inside the attraction. According to the operator, there were signs on the property warning people with respiratory issues of this particular hazard. The case is still ongoing. However, courts have previously held plaintiffs partially or fully liable for not taking steps to prevent their own injuries when they had the opportunity to do so.
Lastly, in some jurisdictions, haunted houses are granted immunity from personal injury lawsuits stemming from incidents that occur on Halloween. A Louisiana appeals court ruled in one case that the holiday represented a special occasion where the rules against scaring or mentally shocking others are lifted somewhat. Therefore, people who are hurt as a result of being scared have no (or very limited) legal recourse to pursue damages against haunted house operators.
Each wrongful death claim is unique, and there may be elements of your claim that allow you to obtain compensation for the loss of your loved one. It's best to discuss the facts of the case with a wrongful death attorney like one from Burke Schultz Harman & Jenkinson Attorneys at Law to determine if you have a viable claim before proceeding to court.