Chilling Halloween Law cases

This Halloween special is a reblog from NW Sidebar, the blog of NW Lawyer, the journal of the Washington State Bar Association, written by Jennifer M. Richards. 

“Chilling Halloween-Law Cases from Washington


A “tombstone” inscription from Purtell v. Mason.

Everyone has heard of the Stambovsky vAckley case, where the court found that, as a matter of law, a house was haunted. Stambovsky vAckley, 169 A.D.2d 254 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991). Other strange and spooky case law includes personal injuries from corn mazes or haunted houses, flammable costumes, and other supernatural and sordid tales. See, respectively,Deborah Mays v. Gretna Athletic Boosters Inc.(court held being frightened in haunted house was part of the experience and no duty to protect plaintiff from injuries she sustained); Purtell v. Mason (couple with large motor home received angry response from  neighbors and retaliated by placing tombstones in their yard telling of the untimely deaths of those neighbors — see illustration); Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson (couple dressed up as Bo Peep and her sheep sued after sheep costume made of cotton balls caught fire).

But what about some “Halloween law” from right here in Washington state?

  1. In a Halloween prank gone awry out of Spokane, the decision begins, “The night was black, and a heavy rain fell.” The parties crossed the railroad tracks on October 31 intending to play a trick on a friend. However, the trick turned into tragedy when “they rammed into a freight train as it coasted quietly through the crossing at the western edge of Lyle.” Hewitt v. Spokane, P. & S. Ry. Co., 402 P.2d 334, 66 Wn.2d 285 (Wash. 1965)
  2. The appellate division had a real treat when it decided a defamation claim for an ad involving the plaintiff’s name written on the side of a pumpkin. The advertisement invited the public to “spend Halloween Night” at a local bar. The phrase “Mark Crossman is…” was written on the left side of the pumpkin. Crossman alleged that his name was written on bathroom stalls at 15 other bars and his reputation had been tarnished. Crossman v. Brick Tavern, Inc., 655 P.2d 1206, 33 Wn.App. 503 (Wash.App. Div. 1 1982)
  3. The plaintiff stated that he was a “spiritualistic medium” with a supernatural power. He used his contacts with the dead to induce the defendants to enter into promissory notes to satisfy spirits beyond the grave. Specifically, “he induced them to believe that there were certain spirits which demanded that they execute the notes in question, for the purpose of what he called a materialization.” He filed suit to enforce payment of the promissory notes. The Court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding that the notes had been entered into through fraudulent representation instead of legitimate clairvoyance. Du Clos v. Batcheller, 49 P. 483, 17 Wash. 389 (Wash. 1897). 

For more spine-tingling lawsuits, check out the October 2014 issue of NWLawyer, which features our Top 10 Legal Cases that Will Spook You!

About the Author

Jennifer M. Richards. Jennifer is an associate attorney at Feldman & Lee, P.S. A native Nevadan, she enjoys cheering on the Nevada Wolfpack, Gonzaga, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. She occasionally blogs at Queen City Addendum, and loves to connect with other professionals on LinkedIn.”