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Injured Haunted House Patron Loses Court Case

(CN) - A man whose haunted-house-type experience in San Diego's Balboa Park resulted in an injury does not have a legal leg to stand on, an appeals court ruled.

The Haunted Trail is one of four Halloween attractions that a company called Haunted Hotel operates in San Diego every autumn.

Scott Griffin got more than he bargained for when he and some friends bought tickets for the Haunted Trail in Balboa Park in late October 2011.

Though Griffin admittedly had fun for most of the trail, passing actors carrying chainsaws, knives and depictions of severed body parts, his mood changed after passing through a gate that he thought ended the experience.

While "giggling and laughing" in the well-lit area they thought was an access road, an actor wielding a gas-powered chainsaw, with the chain removed, lunged at them.

Griffin tripped and fell while running away, then sued for negligence and assault.

False exits like the one that tricked Griffin are meant to deliver what is known in the fright industry as a "Carrie" effect.

As in the Stephen King horror movie, the audience lets down its guard when they think the horror show is over, only to be jolted one more time.

"He was literally running after me," Griffin testified. "And I really felt unsafe. And then I started getting really fearful that something was going to happen because here's some stranger - I don't even know who he is - with a live, active chainsaw running after me with it."

The Haunted Hotel's website meanwhile warns patrons that "running is the main cause of minor injuries."

"Make sure to follow the rules and DON'T run and you should be fine," it says.

Judge Katherine Bacal awarded Haunted Hotel summary judgment, and the Fourth District California Court of Appeals affirmed on Nov. 20.

"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," Justice Gilbert Nares wrote for a three-judge panel.

"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," Nares added.

The 27-page opinion notes that none of the 10 to 15 people who fell, as Griffin did, in the Haunted Trail's final scare between 2009 and 2011 reported being injured.

"The point of the Haunted Trail is to scare people, and the risk that someone will become scared and react by running away cannot be eliminated without changing the basic character of the activity," Nares wrote. "As the trial court aptly noted, 'Who would want to go to a haunted house that is not scary?"

Nares said Griffin also had an idea of what to expect in the Haunted Trail, having "previously attended Knott's 'Scary' Farm and possibly 'Fright Night' at Universal Studios."

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