What defines a haunted house or haunted attraction?
Haunted houses are live entertainment venues that simulate the terror associated with “real” haunted houses or paranormal encounters. Sometimes built completely from scratch, the design of haunted attractions may utilize already existing structures such as abandoned asylums, run-down hospitals, inactive prisons, old homes, factories, barns, and farms. The list goes on.
These attractions often utilize pop culture horror characters and storylines from movies and novels. Generally, these characters will feature frightening qualities. They may include icons like Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers, or more general characters like monsters, ghosts, and demons. Actors usually play the characters wearing prosthetics, costumes, and masks to help set the scene.
Haunted houses create an exciting, and safe, sense of fear and suspense for participants. Effects such as strobe lights and fog machines, CGI, spooky scenery, props, and more bring the experience to life. However, making this fun environment safe requires certain steps and precautions.
Drive-through Haunted Houses: How Haunted Houses are Innovating During COVID
2020 was a difficult year for haunted attractions in the wake of a global pandemic. Haunted houses make their money around the premise of getting in someone’s space to maximize that person’s level of fear. With social distancing guidelines being enforced everywhere, that experience becomes unfavorable.
Nevertheless, haunted houses continue to innovate and adapt like so many other industries in order to survive in the wake of an economic recession. Enter the drive-through haunted house! These haunts are popping up not just across the country but across the world. A haunted house in Japan took over a Tokyo parking garage and turned it into a completely new way to experience a haunted attraction. The garage simulates trying to escape a zombie outbreak. Participants navigate the garage while surrounded by monsters and mutated creatures, all without leaving the air-tight safety of their vehicle. Each car is wiped down with alcohol before entering to ensure the safety of the actors, and after, to clean off fake blood and kill any germs the actors may have left behind. It may not be preferable to a normal haunted house, but, for most, it’s better than no screams at all.
What are the risks that make high limit liability insurance mandatory?
There’s no question that haunted houses are fun and enjoyable experiences, but what happens when that fun becomes a nightmare? The truth is that most haunted houses are filled with opportunities for people to get hurt. They involve grouping individuals and stuffing them into tiny rooms and hallways. The nature of many haunted house sets are to be flexible and cost-effective with cheap builds and structures. These are just a few of the many liabilities lurking inside these attractions.
Movable props, like heavy coffins and gurneys, also become a risk. Additionally, haunted houses naturally create environments of high tension, suspense, and fear. In other words, environments where accidents happen. Haunted house operators must do their best to minimize risk, or they could face major litigation and injury liability costs. Owners need to properly manage their risk through a series of steps and precautions.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) classifies haunted houses as “special amusement buildings.” The NFPA’s Life Safety Code® book contains a complete section (section 18.104.22.168) on haunted attraction safety. Following strict safety codes is necessary to prevent catastrophes. Find more information on these codes in (section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1). The local fire department or city government will also have more safety precautions and regulations.
Recent Haunted House injuries and lawsuits in the news
- Man stabbed at haunted house
- Person breaks teeth at “full contact” haunted house
- Woman breaks Leg in low lighting
- Mother and daughter sexually assaulted
What Are the Risks that most often result in haunted house lawsuits?
How much liability will you have in a haunted house? For many people, haunted houses are places of excitement. However, with that experience come a number of injuries, risks, and liabilities of which to be aware. Below, you’ll find a list of the common risks associated with running a haunted house and, in the next section, how to avoid or minimize them.
Potential risks to patrons while attending a haunted house:
- Slips, trips, and falls are very common
- Areas with low lighting make obstacles harder to see
- Unfinished construction, setting, or decor
- Exits may be blocked by strobe lights, fog emitted by machines, or winding pathways
- Groups of people packed tightly together (head butting when someone gets shocked or scared)
- Children are particularly prone to sustaining injuries from trampling
- Chemicals from special effects like fog machines or the gas from a chainsaw (could fuel a fire, cause carbon monoxide poisoning, or cause carbon dioxide poisoning)
How do you prevent the risks other than buying haunted house liability insurance?
Haunted houses are scary but lawsuits are terrifying. You want your patrons to be scared in your haunted house attraction, not scared of it. Do your best to find the balance between the appearance of impending danger, without any real threats to safety, and actual danger. Let’s take a look at the best practices to follow for keeping your patrons safe.
How to avoid haunted house risks and hazards:
- Avoid common trips by removing or securing:
- Loose extension cords
- Mats on slippery flooring
- Uneven flooring
- Make sure potentially hazardous obstacles are properly lit and visible
- Have proper and clearly marked exits
- Must have clear and unobstructed emergency exits in the case of an accident
- Secure unfinished construction
- Replace or sand splintered plywood
- Remove protruding nails and screws
- Flammable decorations
- Flammable props and decorations must be in line with fire code
- Fire extinguishers and alarms must be visible and easily accessible
- Falling props/bodily injury
- Bodily injuries to patrons can result from other patrons, untrained actors, and falling props among other things.
- Make sure haunted scenery and props are properly secured and tied down.
- Walls must be nailed securely so they can take hits from people bumping into them without the risk of falling.
- Proper training for employees/actors
- Actors typically make up a large part of what makes a haunted house haunted.
- Reckless actors can cause a patron to slip or fall, or they may injure patrons themselves through accidental bodily contact.
- Sexual assault or groping – it’s dark, actors tend to get a little excited
- Proper ventilation systems in place to allow the fumes to escape.
- Keeping staff current on safety codes
- Have frequent staff meetings to review safety precautions
- Have maintenance crew frequently check that haunted house is in check with safety protocols
Proper waiver/release forms for haunted houses
All participants should sign a haunted house liability waiver/release prior to admittance into the haunted house. Minor waiver/release agreements require signatures by parent/guardian as well as by the minor. Adults should sign an adult waiver/release. And yes, despite what you may have been told by your local attorney, waiver/release agreements are worth the paper they are written on. Waiver/release agreements may sometimes result in lawsuit dismissal by summary judgment. But most often, they help to provide evidence of an assumption or risk defense.
What’s the next step? High limit liability insurance protection
Even with a better understanding of the risks associated with running a haunted house, there are some accidents that owners just won’t see coming. A customized liability insurance protection plan is the best option to protect your operation.
If you manage and operate a haunted attraction, click the “Get a Quote” button at the top of the page or click here to request a quote for haunted house insurance. At Sadler Insurance, our trained professionals have been helping event-based businesses like haunted houses for years. With our haunted house event insurance, we are confident we will meet your liability insurance needs with our best-in-industry coverage.
Our liability mitigation programs are personalized to protect your haunted house operation. We will help you reduce your risks and protect yourself so you can focus on what’s most important, running your haunted house.
Meaghan Kelly. Haunted House Maintenance: A Behind-The-Scenes Look. AkitaBox. October 10, 2019.
Scary, but Safe? Haunted House Lawsuits. Davis Law Firm.
Haunted attraction (simulated). Wikipedia. Edited February 13, 2021.
Michael Hollan. Drive-thru haunted houses are helping Halloween traditions stay alive in 2020. Fox News.
Kaori Enjoji. Tokyo has a drive-in haunted house. And it’s terrifying. CNN. August 14, 2020.
Bloody Handprint Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
People in Fog Photo: Madworld