What used to be an innocent holiday when kids of all ages would wear home-made costumes and trick-or-treat well past sundown, Halloween has become a time when pranksters and those with bad intentions create situations that result in injury and lawsuits. Add to that, accidents just happen, even to the best of us.
We will use this space to share some tips to help property owners avoid winding up in a costly lawsuit; but first, here are a few Halloween-related lawsuits that we couldn’t resist sharing:
Smith v. Taunton High School
A CBS affiliate in Boston reported a story in 2011 about a Halloween prank that proved to be costly for a high school. A teacher asked a student to answer a knock on the door. When the student opened the door, he was greeted by a man wearing a mask and holding a running chainsaw. The student reacted by jumping back in terror, tripping and falling fracturing his kneecap. His parents reacted by filing a personal injury lawsuit against the high school.
Purtell v. Mason
When neighbors in Chicagoland protested a couple’s 38-foot motorhome, the Purtells retaliated by erecting tombstones in their front yard. Each prop included a neighbor's name and their address as the date of death. For example:
Bette wasn't ready,
But here she lies
Ever since that night she died,
12 feet deep in this trench,
Still wasn't deep enough
For that wenches stench!
Tensions turned into a physical scuffle, and police officer Bruce Mason threatened to arrest Purtell for disorderly conduct if he did not remove the display. Purtell sued Mason for violating his First Amendment rights. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the tombstones are protected speech, but also concluded that it was “unfortunate that this petty neighborhood dispute found its way into federal court.”
Duskey vs. Palmer House
A young woman, Megan Duskey, went to the “Haunted Hotel Ball” hosted by Palmer House Hilton in Chicago in 2010. Instead of a fun night with friends, Megan fell four floors to her death after attempting to slide down a railing and suffering head trauma.
Her parents filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of Palmer House Hilton as well as the event companies hosting the party. The suit claims that the hosts and hotel allowed guests to consume unlimited amounts of alcohol and failed to provide adequate security. The parents sued for $500,000 in compensation for their daughter’s death.
As you can see, a good time can turn into a tragedy in an instant. If you own property and are hosting a party or trick-or-treaters, you need to make sure your home and property are safe for guests.
- Make sure your walkway is well lit, and the lights are turned on. Lights may tone down the scary effect, but in the end, they can save you from a nightmare if someone were to trip and get hurt.
- Set up decorations with traffic flow in mind. If it’s a particularly windy day, experts say to remove or secure anything that can be turned into a flying object.
- Avoid candles as much as possible. They can easily light a costume on fire if a reveler comes into contact with the flame. If you do choose to use a candle in a pumpkin, make sure it is placed at a distance where it can’t be knocked over.
- Avoid decorating with dried flowers, cornstalks and crepe paper because they are all highly combustible.
- Use only lights and other electrical decorations that have been tested for safety and avoid daisy-chaining extension cords when plugging them in because it can cause overheating.
- Never staple, nail through or fasten electrical wires or extension cords in any way that might damage the wire or insulation. This could cause electrical shock or fire.
- Plug all outdoor lights and decorations into ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to help reduce the risk of electric shock.
Vandals’ Pranks Can Cause Damage
Vandals are pranksters who like to destroy things. And, they love Halloween. To prevent vandals from wreaking havoc on your property — think smashed pumpkins on your porch or eggs on windows — consider keeping your home well lit — and using motion sensor lighting after you go to bed.
Once you’ve taken proactive steps to your house safe for guests, sit back and enjoy the parade of ghosts and goblins, knowing you’ve helped ensure a safe and fun Halloween for all!!