Haunted House Escapes Liability

Just in time for Halloween, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a state-run elementary school is immune from tort liability for injuries sustained at a haunted house operated by the school.  Bwahahaha.

Here is what happened.  Ellisville State School is a school in Mississippi  for “persons who suffer from mental retardation.”   In 2004, the school decided to put on a haunted-house scare-your-pants-off event called  “Camp Fear.”  The school planned the fund-raiser to help provid[e] care for, and treatment of, mentally retarded persons.

The event  sounds awesomely spooky.

One of [the] activities included a cabin in which the participants ran around in the dark with strobe lights randomly robbing them of their night vision. Suddenly, a scary character called “Ring girl” would emerge from a “well” and send the participants fleeing outside onto a dark porch and down dark steps. Staffers with flashlights provided the only light.  [source]

While running around in the dark, one of the patrons fell down some stairs.  The patron sued the state for injuries he  sustained at the fundraiser.

Taking its cue from English common law dating back to the Middle Ages, the Supreme Court of Mississippi held the state was immune from liability for the injuries sustained.

While Siouxise is happy that haunted house escaped liability, the analysis in the opinion is a little spotty.

The opinion acknowledges that the application of sovereign immunity can be tricky.  And the Court promised to make its ruling clear:

Members of our bench and bar readily admit difficulty in understanding the MTCA’s cryptic dividing line between acts which continue to enjoy immunity and those which don’t. Today, we attempt to bring some clarity to the issue.  [source]

But while the Court explained that immunity would only apply if the acts that caused the injury were discretionary and promoted some type of social , economic or political policy, the Court did little to clarify what exactly that means.  The Court tried to use an example of a school bus injury.  If a bus driver lets a kid off at a particular intersection — that is merely a judgment call and there is no immunity.  But a school board’s decision to allow children to de-board at a busy intersection is a policy decision, which is entitled to immunity.
That is all well and good.   But the school bus example seems to produce the opposite result here — that the alleged failure to make the stairs safe was probably the result of someone’s judgement call (or lack thereof), and not some broad policy decision.
But at least the outcome, if not the application of the law, is right.  Happy Haunting Mississippi!

The opinion can be found at this link.

Photo Credit:  Iwona Kellie

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~ by siouxsielaw on October 22, 2010.

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