As dusk falls and the sun oozes into an orange puddle on the horizon, you hear the slow but steady cadence of footsteps approaching your front door. You're not expecting company, and you get a chilling sensation as you hear a dull knock at the door, the clap of thunder, and what sounds like the word "brains." Halloween was several weeks ago, so you're not expecting trick-or-treaters (or zombies, for that matter).
You peer through the peephole and see a young man holding a few papers in his hand; nothing out of the ordinary. It's not a monster, you conclude, but something much, much worse... a process server!
That's right, you're being sued for something that happened on October 31, and apparently it's your fault (Oh, and the guy serving you the complaint said "rain" under his breath when he felt a few drops on his head). The horror!
Actually, there are quite a few ways you can expose yourself to a lawsuit on Halloween. Let's explore a few -- if you dare:
Premises liability. If you're handing out candy on Halloween, you're inviting visitors onto your property and must keep the area relatively safe. For example, real candles in jack-o-lanterns could catch a vampire's cape or a wolfman's fur on fire. Is the scarecrow on the porch holding a chainsaw? Make sure it's not sharp and can't be started. As a rule of thumb: If you see a potential hazard and fail to fix it, then you're on the hook for any injuries that occur. See our Premises Liability FAQ for more information.
Sexual harassment. Let's be honest -- Halloween is an excuse for some adults (and teenagers) to wear revealing and provocative costumes. But just because your coworker decides to dress up as a "sexy slice of pizza" at your company's after-hours Halloween party doesn't give you license to ask how her toppings taste. You get the idea.
Social host liability. Halloween parties are all the rage, especially when the holiday falls on a Friday. Go ahead and serve alcohol, but be mindful that you could be sued by the victim of a drunken driving accident if it was caused by one of your inebriated guests. As the host, you are responsible for determining whether a guest's stumbling and slurred speech is part of the costume or a sign that he's had too much monster juice.
Defamation. Halloween is not the time to launch passive-aggressive attacks on your neighbor's character, as one Florida homeowner learned a few years ago. He had an "insane asylum" sign pointing to his neighbor's house, with a fake tombstone alluding to the neighbor's single status that read: "At 48 she had no mate, no date / It's not debate she looks 88." Clever, but cruel -- and it got him sued for defamation.
Vandalism. Think Halloween gives kids a free pass to smash pumpkins, throw eggs, or otherwise cause destruction and mayhem? Not so much. Often, parents can be held liable for the actions of their minor children, including acts often dismissed as youthful indiscretions such as vandalism. For example, you may be sued for the cost of a new paint job if your daughter and her friends egg a neighbor's brand new car. And your kid may be charged with a juvenile offense.
We're not saying you shouldn't have a good time this Halloween -- far from it. Just make sure it's not at the expense of trick-or-treaters, coworkers, neighbors, or anyone else. If you've been visited by the "Grim Server" or need to file a lawsuit yourself, search FindLaw's directory of personal injury attorneys for legal assistance.