Man Assumed Risk of Minor Injury when He Visited Southern California ‘Haunted Hotel’

room-237The legal rule known as “assumption of the risk” has long applied to participants in sports. In 2012, the California Supreme Court extended it to apply to guests at an amusement park’s bumper-car attraction. Recently, the California Court of Appeal concluded that this legal defense against an injured guest’s negligence claim also applied when it comes to haunted house attractions. The legal rules requiring a business to keep its premises free of risks of injury did not extend to guests injured while running because they were frightened by a component of the attraction.

Many people have visited Halloween-themed attractions like downtown San Diego’s “Haunted Hotel.” Like most haunted house attractions, this one involves actors who “jump out of dark spaces often inches away from patrons, holding prop knives, axes, chainsaws, or severed body parts.” In the fall of 2011, Scott Griffin visited the Haunted Hotel. After many frights and scares, Griffin stepped through a gap in a chain-link fence, believing he had exited the attraction. In reality, the fence was a false exit, and Griffin was still inside the attraction. A chainsaw-wielding actor approached and then chased the man. Griffin ran away from the actor, tripped, fell, and injured his wrist.

Griffin sued the attraction for his injuries, but the trial court ruled in favor of the Haunted Hotel. Griffin appealed but again was unsuccessful. Both the trial court and the appeals court decided that the Haunted Hotel was not negligent in the way that it maintained its attraction.

Many businesses, like stores, landlords, or operators of office buildings, are required to remove reasonably foreseeable risks of injury from their properties. The rules regarding some recreational activity businesses are somewhat different. Property owners whose properties house recreational activities are not required to eliminate risks of injury if those risks are inherent to the activity itself. Patrons who enter the business and participate in the activity are, under the law, said to “assume the risk” of those inherent dangers when they decide to partake of the activity.

While the assumption of the risk rule historically applied to participants in sporting contests, the California Supreme Court extended it to certain amusement businesses in a 2012 case, Nalwa v. Cedar Fair L.P. In that case, the family of a girl riding in a bumper car sued an amusement park for the broken wrist the child suffered during a bumper car ride. This rule and its 2012 expansion by the Supreme Court exist because, with some activities, removing all risks would necessarily mean altering the fundamental nature of the activity. In the Nalwa case, the Supreme Court pointed out that bumper cars involved some inherent risk. The “whole point of a bumper car is to bump” because “who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?”

Similarly, the point of a haunted house is to give visitors extreme scares. Inherent in that is the possibility that some patrons, in a state of profound fright, might run away and, while running, trip and fall. Giving guests such powerful frights is inherent in the activity because a haunted house business would quickly fail without them. Put another way, as the trial court asked, “who would want to go to a haunted house that is not scary?” The legal obligations of business proprietors do not extend to haunted house businesses guarding against any possible scenario arising from scared guests “reacting in bizarre, frightened and unpredictable ways.”

If you’ve been injured on the property of another, you may have a negligence case against that property owner. Talk to the Oakland premises liability attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury attorneys have spent many years helping victims pursue their premises liability cases. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Governor Signs New California Law to Expand Definition of Protected Activities under FEHA, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Aug. 17, 2015

Supervisors, Stress, and Your California Disability Discrimination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 30, 2015