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On Haunted Trail, fear is an 'inherent risk'

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Leatherface strikes again.

A California appeals court has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Scott Griffin against the Haunted Hotel Inc. for an injury sustained during an October 2011 visit to the company's theme park in San Diego.

Mr. Griffin was visiting The Haunted Trail, an outdoor haunted house attraction where actors jump out of dark spaces often inches away from patrons, holding prop knives, axes, chainsaws or severed body parts, according to court documents. The attraction ends with what the park refers to as the “Carrie” effect, named for the 1976 horror film because patrons are led to believe the attraction is over, only to be met with a final scare after passing through a fake exit.

But in a scene more reminiscent of the 1974 horror classic the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in which a group of friends are terrorized by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface character, Mr. Griffin was frightened and injured his wrist while fleeing an actor wielding a gas-powered chainsaw (the chain had been removed) during the final scare — despite an audio recording and signs warning visitors not to run.

In the 14 years The Haunted Trial has been operating, more than 250,000 visitors participated in the scare-fest, with between 10 and 15 people falling while running from the chainsaw-wielding actor in this final scare in the three years prior to Mr. Griffin's incident, according to court documents.

In March 2014, Mr. Griffin sued the Haunted Hotel alleging general negligence, negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention, and assault. But a lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the company — a decision affirmed last week by California's Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One in San Diego, which will also allow the Haunted House to recover costs on appeal.

“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,” the court stated. “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.”

“Being chased within the physical confines of The Haunted Trail by a chainsaw carrying maniac is a fundamental part and inherent risk of this amusement,” the court continued. “Griffin voluntarily paid money to experience it.”