Hal-LAW-een by Ben Freeland

In my family, Halloween wasn’t just a night for the kids to go out and gather candy from the neighbors. It was also a night for my parents to gallivant around to costume parties of their own. My brother Andy and my sister Ashley would habitually plan for Halloween in September. They would choose everything from our travel route, food supplies for the night, scary movies to watch after trick or treating and, of course, the costume. I was the youngest and couldn’t travel on my own, so I was left choosing a hand-me down outfit or creating one using various items from around the house (never worked out). One year, I wore my grandma’s dress stuffed with pillows with a few other attachments…my prognosis—A sofa. That year my brother was a superhero and probably his favorite year trick or treating (he had a place to sit when he was tired). I don’t remember a lot of “bad” or “strange” things happening but I definitely saw my fair share of questionable shenanigans.


This made think of the laws that surround Halloween and what cases are Halloween related, so without further ado, let’s get into it.

  1. I appreciate a house with character and history but… I can only imagine how a haunted house would be on All Hallows Eve. Many of you may be familiar with the case of Stambovsky v. Ackley, known as the Ghostbusters ruling, which involved a New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, declaring that a house was in fact haunted. The plaintiff filed an action to rescind a real estate purchase after he discovered that the house he bought was possessed by ghosts. The trial court dismissed the complaint saying that there was no proof of it. Arguably, the Appellate Court found that the “unusual facts . . . clearly warrant a grant of equitable relief to the buyer.” As a result, the Appellate Court found that as a matter of law, the house is haunted. The real estate transaction was then overturned.
  2. In certain towns, jurisdictions and cities in NY, the rules pertaining to adult trick or treaters vary. However, there are age restrictions in other places. For example, St. Louis has banned anyone with an education level above 8th grade from asking people for candy! In Westchester, NY and in White Plains, NY anyone over the age of 14 is not permitted to walk around town asking for candy.
  3. This next case was funny to me but I can see where it might cause an issue – Smith v. Taunton High School. This matter involved a mother and father that sued the High School after their son was scared by the science teacher. The teacher asked the 15-year-old student to answer a knock on the classroom door. The boy was startled when he came face to face with a man in a mask, who was carrying a running chainsaw. The student fell back, tripped and fractured a kneecap. The case is still ongoing because the parents are seeking damages amounting to more than $100,000 and the state cap on such law suits is $100,000.
  4. Be careful of those pesky haunted houses! An infamous case involving a scared haunted house-goer ended well for the attraction but left the customer with a fractured nose and lots of medical expenses. An attraction in NY was so great at their job of scaring people, that an attendee leapt back from the mangled-corpse-actor and ran into the cement block wall. The end result- a judge declared on the side of the attraction. Haunted house visitors “are expected to be surprised, startled and scared by the exhibits and the operator does not have a duty to guard against patrons reacting in bizarre, frightened and unpredictable ways,” according to the court.
  5. Granted you assume the risk of bumping in to things, getting grabbed and scared out of your wits upon entering a haunted house, but what if it is State-run for toddlers? In the case of Holman v. Illinois, The plaintiff was a 68-year old grandmother of two, who decided to take the age appropriate toddler to the State-run Museum “Haunted House.” The event is designed not as a frightful place but to allow toddlers and children under seven a safe way to gather candy. The dimly light museum was arranged so travelers would walk through rooms and have a cauldron of candy at each stop. The venue offered free flash lights to the public as well. Under normal conditions the room is arranged with tables and low-seated benches for children to use in the museum’s regular displays. These tables and benches had been moved into the upper-right-hand corner of the Discovery Room next to the wall. On this particular evening the grandmother, who is accustomed to the museum was making her way through the event when her grandson ran off to gather his candy and she ran to the opposite side to corral him. Upon doing so, she tripped over a bench, fell on her left arm and hit her head. She was rushed to the emergency room, sued the state of Illinois and won her case. The court decided that “The State did not exercise its duty of reasonable care. For the foregoing reasons, the Claimant is granted an award of $ 20,000.”

So there you have it folks, whether you’re a sofa, a superhero, or something else, there are always things to be aware of on Halloween.

That’s all for now,

Ben Freeland.


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