4 Legal Tips for Halloween

Halloween is a fun holiday for adults and children alike, but there are some important things to keep in mind. Let’s make sure your “Boo!” doesn’t turn into a “boo-hoo.”

First, if you own or rent property, you owe your guests and trick-or-treaters a legal duty of care to have a safe yard. You have to take reasonable care to fix or warn of any dangers on your property. This could mean filling in or posting a warning sign about any holes (such as hidden rabbit holes) or trip hazards (like uneven sidewalks) that a guest could come across and be injured. Remember that the kiddos are often wearing costumes which may limit their mobility or line of vision, so something that might seem obvious or avoidable to you might not be to them. If snow or ice is a possibility, your driveway and sidewalks need to be cleared and ice-free. If you do not properly address these things and an accident occurs, you could be held liable for negligence. You definitely don’t want to have to deal with an injured child, a lawsuit, or an insurance claim.

Last year during Halloween my fiancée and I were midway through putting in our dry creek bed. We covered the trench with boards and wrote “Stay Off” on it in fluorescent paint. Quick and easy!

Second, even if you aren’t expecting guests or won’t be turning on the light to welcome trick-or-treaters, you still have a duty to trespassers. It’s crazy to think about, but true. There will be many people wandering around on Halloween, and not all of them will stay out of your yard. If there is a hidden danger (like a dog who will bite on an electric fence), you have a duty to warn trespassers. If you have a cool feature in your yard that might be interesting to a small child, legally referred to as an “attractive nuisance,” the danger can be open and obvious and you will still get into legal trouble. During Halloween, this is most likely going to be Halloween decorations, but also includes pools, decorative ponds, etc.

This year my fiancée and I are going to hand out candy at my sister’s house, so we won’t have our porch light on. We do have Halloween decorations which might compel a child to come into our yard and get hurt. I love my wraith decoration, but it is pretty floppy – the wooden cross support under his robes keeps falling over. The last thing we wanted was for it to fall on a child, so we tied it to a big tree. Now, even if a kid wants to climb up the wraith, with the additional support he isn’t going to fall and hit someone.

Third, don’t get too scary. Some degree of scariness is encouraged on Halloween – creepy decorations or sounds, horrifying costumes, and sudden loud noises (boo!) usually won’t get you into any trouble. Stalking someone from behind, pulling out your chainsaw, and jumping out at someone opens you up to liability, even if you don’t intend to do anything more than scare. That’s why when you go to a haunted house you have to sign a waiver.

The problem comes if you create a reasonable fear of harm in the person you are scaring – if they are truly scared for their safety, you have gone too far. Even if you don’t touch someone, you can be charged with assault or sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plus, you could get injured yourself if the person fights back against their “attacker,” not realizing it is a joke. Let’s avoid the assault and battery charges this year, folks.

Fourth, Halloween costumes aren’t particularly regulated. It’s hard to get in legal trouble when it comes to costumes around Halloween. As long as the most important bits are covered, you won’t get into trouble for indecent exposure. The police have more important things to do than worry about someone’s scandalous attire on Halloween.

You can dress up as a police officer, firefighter, EMT, or even a priest without getting into any trouble, so long as you don’t actually represent yourself as a member of these professions to someone. Wearing a cheap police uniform you picked up for $30 to party and telling your friends you need to “pat them down” with a saucy wink? Go for it. Wearing a realistic uniform and pretending question or arrest someone you don’t know? Not okay.

Weapons are much less taboo on Halloween, too. Fake weapons are okay in most places so long as they look fake (a notable exception is some schools). Real weapons are surprisingly okay, too. If you want to wear your real swords in your ninja costume to a private party, you can do so – just don’t go waiving it around where someone could get hurt. If you are using real guns, make sure you adhere to the rules wherever you go. Missouri is an open carry state but there are restrictions – your Confederate soldier costume is pretty cool, but you can’t take it into a building with a No Weapons sign posted.

Just use your common sense and Halloween will be safe and fun for everyone. Have a Happy Halloween!