Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Petrifying Precedent

Law practice is scary—the devil is in the details, and it’s easy to overlook a local rule, deadline, or statutory requirement and kill your client’s case.  But courts around the country have dealt with some hair-raising issues that don’t generally haunt most lawyers. 
In my favorite spooky case, a New York court held that a house was haunted as a matter of law.  In Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254 (1991), the court held that a buyer was entitled to rescind his contract to purchase a house because of the existence of ghosts in the house.  The court held that the seller, having reported ghostly activities in Reader’s Digest and numerous local publications, was estopped to deny the existence of ghosts and therefore, as a matter of law, the house was haunted. Id. at 256.
There may be a general duty not to scare others—but, according to the Louisiana Court of Appeals, that duty vanishes on Halloween: The “general duty not to scare” is modified on Halloween, when society “encourages children to transform themselves into witches, demons, and ghosts and play a game of threatening neighbors into giving them candy.”  Bouton v. Allstate Insurance Co., 491 So.2d 56, 58 (La. Ct. App. 1986).    
As one might expect, cases involving haunted house attractions have scared up litigation across the country.  Generally, the courts have held that injuries sustained by frightened haunted house patrons are not actionable.  For example, the Louisiana Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff who was injured at a haunted house assumed the risk of injury.  The court held that the plaintiff “had to realize the very nature of the attraction was to cause patrons to react in bizarre, frightened, and unpredictable ways,” and she could not recover when she was injured from “being frightened, precisely the effect that the ‘Haunted House’ was calculated to produce.” Bonnano v. Continental Cas. Co., 285 So.2d 591, 592 (La. Ct. App. 1973).

The infamous Michael Myers mask from the Halloween movies has even haunted one court.  In Don Post Studios, Inc. v. Cinema Secrets, Inc., 124 F. Supp. 2d 311 (E.D. Pa. 2000), a court considered whether the creator of the Michael Myers mask could state claims for copyright and trade dress infringement against a party that had been given a non-exclusive license to produce the mask by the Halloween filmmaker.

And, in an opinion issued—appropriately—on October 31, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky upheld a trial court’s dismissal of a contract action against Spooky Hollow Realty Company. Langley v. Spooky Hollow Realty Co., 64 S.W.2d 459 (Ky. Ct. App. 1933).

Happy Halloween! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.