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Jurisprudanse Macabre: The Scariest Legal Cases

Welcome, everyone pursuing a leghoul career, to Halloween Week. For the next week, we’ll be transforming, like Michael Jackson into Werewolf Michael Jackson, into Ghost Strongly Supported and Booprint LSAT as we celebrate the spookiest aspects of the LSAT, law school (… we mean law ghoul), and the legal field. Today, we’re giving you some of the scariest legal cases.

When I was preparing for the bar exam, one of the practice questions involved analyzing potential legal claims for injuries the plaintiff sustained after getting frightened in a haunted house. Because I can’t escape the ghost of the bar exam, I’ve decided to cover some real Halloween-related legal cases that have come up over the years.

1. The Real Haunted House

In Stambovksy v. Ackley, a New York court ruled that a house was haunted, as a matter of law. The house’s owner publicized that the house was haunted, repeatedly telling various media sources about the poltergeists inhabiting it. The story was printed in the Reader’s Digest and the local newspaper. When the house was sold, the owner didn’t tell the buyer about the purported haunting. When he learned about the stories, he requested rescission — a fancy word for “cancellation” — of the transaction. The appeals court held that the house was haunted, as a matter of law, because of the previous owner’s decision to report the presence of ghosts in national and local media. Thus, the court granted the request for rescission. The opinion referenced Hamlet and Ghostbusters.

2. The Not-so-Haunted Hosue

Somewhat akin to my bar exam hypo, there was a real case where an individual was injured at a haunted house — Griffin v. The Haunted Hotel. The plaintiff and his friends went through the haunted house, had a good time, and headed out. On their way out, as a last hurrah, one of the actors threatened them with a chainsaw (the chain had been removed). The plaintiff ran away, tripped, and fell. He sued for negligence and assault (as a bit of legal trivia here, you can be liable for assault if you don’t touch someone just so long as you make them reasonably think you’re going to touch them offensively). The trial court dismissed the case because … I mean, duh (but also because people aren’t liable for risks that are inherent in the activities they’re engaged in).

3. Witches and Warlocks, oh my!

A fortune teller witch in Salem recently sued a self-described warlock for harassment. Apparently, the warlock (I’m going to honor his description in this post) had a habit of calling her late at night, leaving harsh internet posts, etc. He would call her some pretty unsavory words, mostly one starting with ‘c.’ The witch predicted the judge would decide in her favor, and, in fact, he did.

That’s a brief round-up of some spooky cases. Remember, if you decide to go to a haunted house, you probably aren’t going to be able to sue for any injuries sustained during a flight from a costumed person.