While Halloween is a night of fun, the special circumstances surrounding trick-or-treating and parties mean a variety of opportunities to commit actionable negligence. Here are a few thoughts on protecting yourself from liability on Halloween:
- Don’t leave open candles anywhere outside. While your sidewalk may look great lined with real lanterns, this creates a foreseeable risk that someone could accidentally knock them over or that a child’s costume could catch fire.
- Keep pets inside. Even if your dog is normally well-behaved, strangers, Halloween costumes, and props can cause your dog to get scared or territorial and lead to a dog bite incident. Especially if your dog has had a history of biting (even one time), a dog bite could expose you to liability.
- Beware of the “pop-out and scare.” Many homeowners like to add to the atmosphere of Halloween by dressing up as a monster and popping out from the side of a porch or from behind trees or bushes to scare trick-or-treaters. If you choose to engage in this fun, ensure that the “scare zone” is away from stairs or any other tripping hazard.
- Be watchful of your child’s costume props. If your kid’s costume comes with pointed or sharp props—think swords, bow-and-arrows, etc.—consider buying plush or softer props or only using the props at home for pictures. If your child accidentally harms another child with a toy sword, you could be held liable for negligent entrustment or negligent supervision.
- Label candy with allergens. If you are giving out candy with peanuts, be sure to either label the candy or tell parents of trick-or-treaters.
- Provide a safe terrain. Ensure that the walking areas leading up to your front door are safe. Fix loose boards or uneven areas of concrete, and remove roots that trick-or-treaters could trip over. If you don’t afford to fix these issues before Halloween, make sure the area is well-lit.
- Avoid social host liability. If you host a party on Halloween night, you run the risk of being held liable as a social host if one of your guests, after leaving your party, drives drunkenly and injures someone. A “Bring Your Own Beer” policy may not shield you from liability. As safe alternatives, offer to call taxis for intoxicated guests or provide a place for intoxicated guests to sleep.