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Primary Assumption of the Risk Strikes… Again!

I’ve written in the past about the primary assumption of the risk doctrine and how it has been greatly expanded over the years. You can read that article here.

Recently, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District has revisited the limits of this issue. The case is titled, Griffin v. The Haunted Hotel, Inc., (2015) 242 Cal. App. 4th 490.

In October 2011, Scott Griffin purchased a ticket to experience “The Haunted Trail,” an outdoor haunted house type of attraction where actors jump out of dark spaces, often inches away from patrons, holding prop knives, axes, chainsaws, or severed body parts. It seems that these types of attractions have gained much popularity in recent years with Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios revamping their parks during the Halloween season.

After passing what he believed was the exit and “giggling and laughing” with his friends about how much fun they had, Griffin unexpectedly was confronted by a final scare known as the “Carrie” effect—so named because, like the 1976 horror film “Carrie”, patrons are led to believe the attraction is over, only to be met by one final scare.

This “final scare” was delivered by an actor wielding a gas-powered chainsaw, who approached Griffin, frightened him, and gave chase when Griffin ran away. Griffin was injured when he fell while fleeing. Griffin sued for his injuries.

“Under the primary assumption of risk doctrine, there is no duty to eliminate or protect a plaintiff against risks that are inherent in a sport or [recreational] activity.” (Calhoon v. Lewis (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 108, 115 [96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 394].)

The trial court, as well as the Appellate Court, agreed that Griffin was engaged in a “sport or recreational activity” while he was at the Haunted Trail and dismissed his case.

The Appellate Court held, “The risk that a patron will be frightened, run, and fall is inherent in the fundamental nature of a haunted house attraction like The Haunted Trail. Moreover, on this record there is no evidence creating a triable issue Haunted Hotel unreasonably increased the risk of injury beyond those inherent risks or acted recklessly.”

What do you think? Has the expansion of “sport or recreational activity” gone too far? Was Mr. Griffin engaged in a sport while he was walking through a haunted house? Was it not an “unreasonable increase of the risk of injury” to have patrons think the attraction was over and then have someone chase the patrons with a gas-powered chainsaw? Let us know in the comments.

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