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Are haunted houses liable for being too scary?

Some visitors to Raleigh, North Carolina’s “Panic Point” may never make it past the liability release waiver. The waiver states that, amongst other horrors, guests may experience injury from poisonous plants, animal bites, sprains, strains and fractures. And that’s before they launch into the part about the possibility of death, presumably from the fear that occurs when a chainsaw-wielding murderer bursts out of the corn.

Liability waivers, or general release forms, are designed to protect businesses from lawsuits against foreseeable risks. In a haunted house attraction, those knowable risks include physical injuries. A customer may sprain an ankle while trying to run in fear from something that popped out seemingly out of nowhere. A disoriented attendee can run smack into a wall in a tunnel filled with strobe lights and smoke. One man sued an attraction in San Diego because he fell and injured his wrists while being chased by a chain-saw-wielding actor. In these types of situations, the liability waivers usually protect the attraction.

Yet while haunted house attractions are not liable for doing their job, for example, being scary, they are still responsible for keeping patrons safe. An attraction could be held liable for damages if, for example, a customer slips on a puddle of fake blood spilled right in her path. Customers injured by falling props or signs that were improperly secured might have a legitimate claim. Or a house that does not warn patrons about the use of strobe lights or smoke could be in trouble if a customer has a severe asthma attack or a seizure.

When crafting a haunted house liability waiver, remember that fear and negligence are two completely different concepts. In order to understand how to fully protect yourself from a legal standpoint, it’s always wise to consult with a business attorney who can help you construct a contract that won’t scare away business.