Monday, October 26, 2015
Man in ‘Haunted’ Attraction Assumed Risk—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who fell while running away from an actor who “attacked” him while he was attending a Halloween attraction in San Diego’s Balboa Park assumed the risk of injury, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. One affirmed the judgment in favor of The Haunted Hotel, Inc., which operates four such attractions in San Diego County, including Balboa Park’s “Haunted Trail.”
Justice Gilbert Nares, in an unpublished opinion, said:
“The Haunted Trail features actors in ghoulish costumes who frighten, startle and sometimes chase patrons amid loud noises and flashing strobe lights in a one mile loop….Patrons follow a narrow trail in the natural park setting, passing from one horror set to the next, each telling a different gruesome story. Along the way, actors jump out of dark spaces or spring from around corners, often inches away from patrons, holding bloody prop knives, axes or other weapons, or a severed body part.”
The plaintiff, Scott Griffin, is suing for injuries sustained in running after being subjected to the so-called “Carrie” effect. As in the movie of the same name, the experience appears to have come to an end, but the operator has in fact thrown one last scare into the mix.
At what appears to be the end of the attraction, there is a fence with an opening.
“When patrons have walked through the opening in the fence, they regroup on the park access road, thinking the attraction is over,” Nares explained. “But this is a fake exit. The access road is controlled by Haunted Hotel. A chainsaw-wielding actor with a gas powered chainsaw suddenly appears, starts the chainsaw, and charges at the patrons—providing a final scare. Although the chain has been removed from the chainsaw, it ‘still has the whole sound, the whole smell of a chain saw, and that’s what gives the effect of—people think it’s a real chain saw.’ During this last encounter, patrons are most prone to run away, with the actor giving chase.”
Warnings regarding the nature of the attraction are printed on the tickets, and appear on the attraction’s website—from which Griffin purchased his ticket—and in its other advertising. The defendant noted that over 250,000 patrons have attended the event in its 14 years of operation, and said 10 to 15 had fallen while running away from the final scare, with no other reported injuries.
Other ‘Scary’ Attractions
Griffin said he had previously been unfamiliar with the attraction, but chose to attend because some friends were planning to do so. He said he had attended other Halloween attractions, including Knott’s “Scary” Farm and possibly Universal Studios “Fright Night.”
The attraction was fun, he said, until after he exited, believing it was “clear that we were done with the experience.” As he and his friends giggled and laughed, he said, someone “came at me with” a chainsaw.
He said he “started running away because it felt unsafe with his chainsaw because h was pointing it at me.”
With the man “literally running after” him, he testified, he was “fearful for my safety big time” and continued running until he fell down and injured his wrist.
A representative of the attraction testified that the purpose of the attraction is to “scare the hell out of them as much as you possibly can” without hurting anyone. Griffin “was never in harm,” he said.
While Griffin said he told the man to stop, the defendant’s representative said the actors never chase someone who tells them to stop because it’s “not fun” if the person isn’t running away.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Katherine A. Bacal granted The Haunted Hotel’s motion for summary judgment, agreeing with the defendant that Nalwa v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (2012) 55 Cal.4th. 1148, extending the primary assumption of risk doctrine to similar attractions, controlled.
Case Not Distinguishable
Rejecting the plaintiff’s argument that his case was distinguishable because the “Carrie” scare occurred outside the attraction, Bacal noted that “all the activities took place on and within defendant’s boundaries, although plaintiff was unaware of that fact.”
She added that there is no requirement that the plaintiff be subjectively aware of the extent of the risk for the doctrine to apply, and said Griffin “was still within the scary experience he purchased” and had assumed the inherent risk that he might become so frightened he would run away.
“[W]ho would want to go to a haunted house that is not scary?,” the judge wrote.
The appellate panel agreed, rejecting the plaintiff’s claim that a jury question existed as to whether the defendant’s employees conduct expanded the risk beyond that inherent in the activity.
Whether the defendant has expanded the risk is an aspect of the defendant’s duty and thus an issue of law, Nares explained.
“The risk inherent in the Haunted Trail’s Carrie effect ending—that a patron would be lulled into a false sense of safety by a fake exit, and then be confronted with an extreme scare event that would cause the person to flee (and fall while fleeing)—is exactly the risk Griffin experienced,” the justice concluded.
The case is Griffin v. The Haunted Hotel, Inc., D066715.
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