A California appellate court affirmed a trial court’s judgment in which the operator of a Halloween haunted house was found not liable to a patron who was injured after experiencing “scary fear” rather than “fun fear”. The case, Griffin v. Haunted Hotel, Inc. D066714, involved a situation in which a hotel’s haunted attraction lead patrons through a trail where actors would frighten them with sudden gestures, loud noises, bright lights, and a variety of props, including mock axes and chainsaws. Towards the end of the trail was an opening that appeared to be the exit and end of the attraction. However, patrons were guided onto an access road and lead to believe that the attraction was complete, but accosted by what appeared to be a crazed madman wielding a chainsaw.
Mr. Griffin, who enjoyed the attraction up to the point of the final moment, believed that he was facing a real-life threat when accosted by the chainsaw-wielding man. Mr. Griffin ran, fell, sprained his wrist. He then sued the hotel where the haunted house was operated for negligence and assault. The trial court granted summary judgment for the hotel based on the primary assumption of risk doctrine. In other words, Mr. Griffin got what he paid for. He got scared. In the court’s words, “Who would want to go to a haunted house that is not scary?”
Mr. Griffin appealed that ruling, arguing that the fear he experienced was not part of the “fun fear” but was “scary fear” because he was lead to believe he had concluded the attraction. The appellate court affirmed, going on to hold that risk that a patron will be frightened, run, and fall is inherent in the fundamental nature of a haunted house. Even if Mr. Griffin experienced subjective “scary fear”, his subjective mental state was irrelevant as a haunted house, and Mr. Griffin’s voluntary choice to encounter it, included the possibility of being lulled into a false sense of safety and then confronted with a scare tactic.