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Beyond Scary

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A Few Tips for Avoiding Premises Injury Liability on Halloween

In 2013 an Oklahoma man’s Halloween decorations went beyond the usual ghosts and tombstones. The display involved two realistic-looking bodies in his driveway, including a dummy placed to look like a man crushed to death by a garage door. The scene tricked a neighbor so completely that he called 911. Though police and firefighters responded to the scene after the 911 call, it was determined that no laws were being broken and the gruesome display was left in place.

While many of us enjoy elaborate Halloween decorations, most of us won’t fabricate horrific scenes that cause the neighbors to call the police.  But a more practical concern should be considered when setting up Halloween decorations realistic enough to call in law enforcement. In Virginia, the owner/operator of a property is liable for a person’s injury that occurs on that property if the owner caused and/or knew about a hazard, but failed to resolve the problem. If the owner didn’t know about the condition that caused the injury, but reasonably should have, they may also be held liable. Unfortunately, even simple decorations come with their hazards, and Halloween doesn’t change the characteristics of liability.  Keep the following in mind as Halloween approaches:

  • Make sure all of the electrical wire used for your decorations is secured to the ground so no-one trips.
  • Keep your property well lit so that decorations are clearly visible. Children running from door to door for free candy are not always aware of their surroundings.
  • Use the universal porch light rule if you would rather not have people approach your door; turning the porch light off typically indicates that you are not having trick-or-treaters this year.

Halloween doesn’t change premise liability law, so take proper precautions when decorating your property. Whether you’re dressing up and trick-or-treating, or handing out candy to the baby ghosts, miniature Frankensteins, and tiny vampires from down the street, have a happy Halloween, and don’t be too scared to have a little fun.