Costumes gone awry, haunted houses, and mean-spirited decorations – oh my! Have care while celebrating Halloween this week, because as these cases show, Halloween is fertile ground for lawsuits:
Mary and Her (flaming) Little Lamb
Susan and Frank Ferlito attended a Halloween party dressed as Mary and Her Little Lamb. Frank’s lamb costume consisted of hundreds of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls glued to a set of long underwear. While at the party, Frank tried to light a cigarette using a butane lighter and set his costume aflame, causing significant burn injuries.
Frank sued. A jury found in favor of Frank, but the District Court held that Johnson & Johnson’s failure to label their cotton balls as flammable was not a proximate cause of Frank’s injuries, that the injuries were not foreseeable, and that the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence. The court concluded, “Plaintiffs…failed to demonstrate the foreseeability of an adult male encapsulating himself from head to toe in cotton batting and then lighting up a cigarette.” The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling.
Haunted, as a matter of law
Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a lovely Victorian home in the Village of Nyack, New York, only to find out (much to his horror) that the house was widely reputed to be haunted. In fact, the seller had reported seeing ghosts in the home in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press. Jeffrey sought to rescind his purchase contract and collect damages. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, agreed that Jeffrey should be able to rescind the contract and held that as to the purported ghosts haunting the home, the seller “is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”
A neighborhood feud over a 38-foot RV led Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell to display a series of tombstones in their yard, each of which chronicled the demise of one of the neighbors involved in the feud. One tombstone read: “Bette wasn’t ready, but here she lies, ever since that night she died, 12 feet deep in this trench… Still wasn’t deep enough, for that wenches stench!” The Purtell’s lawsuit in this case was brought against the unlucky police officer who was dispatched to mediate the dispute and sued for his efforts, accused of violating the Purtell’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.