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Don't Let Your Halloween Become a Legal Nightmare!

By Steven Tanner on October 22, 2012 10:04 AM

A gang of actual zombies dragging their decomposing, brain-seeking selves through the streets or a grinning, chainsaw-wielding madman stalking the neighborhood surely would raise a few goose bumps anytime of the year. But what about the five-year-old girl dressed as a mermaid knocking on your door on Halloween night?

While trick-or-treaters generally are much cuter than they are scary, and even if we gasp in mock terror before dropping a Snickers bar in their bags, the holiday itself presents a potential blood bath of legal problems. Halloween should be fun, but simply whistling through the graveyard instead of taking a few smart precautions can drive a stake right through your evening.

Courtesy of the skeleton crew at FindLaw, here are some of the more common legal mishaps you should try to avoid this Halloween:

Pedestrian Accidents

Four times as many children between five and 14 are killed while walking on Halloween night compared to an average evening, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We're not talking werewolf attacks, but rather incidents related to the low-visibility of revelers (often wearing dark costumes) as they stroll along busy streets.

Motorists need to pay more attention to pedestrians on Halloween, while trick-or-treaters are advised to carry flashlights or glow sticks and never walk alone. See our Pedestrian Accidents subsection for more general information.

Premises Liability

Anytime you invite neighbors and even strangers onto your property at night, many of them wearing masks or otherwise distracted, you could be haunted by a slip-and-fall lawsuit. If someone trips on your poorly lit, uneven walkway, you might be sued for not taking the proper standard of care to ensure a safe environment. Similarly, haunted house operators must find the right balance between frightening and safe.

Take a look at "Conditions Leading to Outdoor Slip and Fall Accidents" and "Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents" to learn more about premises liability.

Vandalism & Trespassing

Most years, vandalism tends to escalate during Halloween, from relatively mild toilet paper attacks to broken windows or graffiti. But like any other night of the year, it can lead to a criminal charge. And if your minor child is caught defacing a cemetery headstone, for example, you may be ordered to pay fines for his or her vandalism under the "parental liability" legal theory.

Trick-or-treaters entering your property should be expected on Halloween night, granting them "implied consent" and generally exempting them from trespassing charges. But jumping a fence with your friends to tell ghost stories in a cemetery is a no-no. See "Trespassing Basics" for an overview.

Alcohol-Related Incidents

Alcohol, the possession of which can land minors in a caldron full of hot water, can cause additional problems for those who imbibe too much. Adults who throw Halloween parties should make sure guests do not get behind the wheel if they are over the limit (see "DUI Law"). Additionally, hosts who serve alcohol at their party can be held liable for injuries caused by guests who drive drunk (see "Social Host Liability").

Alcohol consumption in addition to wearing costumes, both of which can loosen inhibitions, can also cook up a recipe for unwanted attention in the form of sexual harassment. This can be a problem for employers who host office Halloween parties involving alcohol.

So have fun; wear a terrifying (or cute) costume; but remember to stay safe and avoid the menacing tentacles of a lawsuit or criminal charge this Halloween.

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