A sign at the entrance to Kentucky nightclub Bobby Mackey’s Music World reads, “Warning to Our Patrons: This establishment is reported to be haunted. Management is not responsible and cannot be held liable for any actions of any Ghosts/Spirits on these premises.” But is this language enough to avoid all liability exposure?
Ghost actually have figured into past legal cases. Jeffrey Stambovsky purchased a home in New York in 1990 and was unaware of its haunted reputation. He sued the sellers for not disclosing this information when he learned of the hauntings. Dubbed the “Ghostbusters ruling,” Stambovsky v. Ackley concluded, “as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” The court found that the former owners had promoted the house as haunted previously, thus serving as, legally haunted. The sellers were responsible for disclosing this material information to the buyers.
Similarly, Warner Bros. Pictures was sued by an author for allegedly stealing the plot of The Conjuring from his book. The studio argued that the film series was based on historical fact and not subject to suit. The response threw the burden on Warner Bros. to prove ghosts are in fact real if their position was based on The Conjuring being based on fact.
Bobby Mackey’s disclaimer gives rise to an interesting legal debate about whether ghosts are in fact real and whether the owners of the establishment can be held liable for injuries caused by the ghosts. If someone were injured at Bobby Mackey’s and believed their injuries fell outside of the disclaimer, their case would not hinge on disproving the ghost’s existence. Instead, as with any other premise liability claim, the plaintiff would have to prove Bobby Mackey’s was negligent.
Haunted houses, whether historically haunted or created specifically for entertainment, usually requires visitors sign a liability waiver. Like the nightclub disclaimer, these documents serve to protect property owners from responsibilities if a patron is injured. Visitors assume certain risks associated with partaking in activities. Nonetheless, waivers do not serve as a blanket waiver against recovery for injuries sustained by patrons. Owners could be responsible for malfunctioning equipment that created a dangerous situation or improperly created a tripping hazard. The key in a personal injury case against a haunted attraction is proving the injury was separate from the normal risks associated with the activity.
Much like at any other haunted house, a patron at Bobby Mackey’s would need to prove their injuries were unrelated to the location’s advertised risks of paranormal activity. Injuries sustained from poorly placed furniture, leaks, or tripping hazards fall under premises liability, not paranormal activity. Any of these scenarios could be grounds for a personal injury suit, regardless of a liability disclaimer or waiver.
If you’re injured this Halloween season whether at a haunted attraction, commercial establishment or at someone’s private residence, and your injuries are the result of someone’s negligence rather than the natural consequences of ghoulish activity, contact Perez Law Group, PLLC today.