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Halloween Legal Nightmares on Elm Street

In the spirit of Halloween, we put together a list of theoretical legal issues that could crop up on this spooky holiday. Don’t be scared though: with this list, you should be prepared for anything. Think of Rocket Lawyer as your personal (legal) ghostbuster.

1) Stolen costume design

The scenario: You’ve come up with the perfect, most brilliant costume idea, one that will win you renown, catapulting you into Halloween legend. There may or may not be an actual catapult involved. While still in the design phase, you consult a friend for help and advice. But this friend steals your idea! Worse, he plans to show up at your party wearing your costume! What can you do?

Unless there was actual property theft, not much. If your friend stole a physical portion of your costume, or the page with your prototype designs, you could charge him with theft. If you patented the costume (it’s been years in the making), you have grounds for intellectual property theft. However, if your friend merely stole your idea, there’s nothing you can do. In the United States, you cannot patent, copyright or trademark a pure idea: it has to be a specific incarnation of the idea. This is why it’s impossible to patent the idea of a spoon, but it is possible to patent a specific ergonomic spoon design with a flashlight on the end.

Before you let wrath take over your body like a demon, ask yourself: a) were you really the first person on the planet to have this idea (answer: no), and b) is the costume worth more than your friendship (answer: possibly)? In the future, consider making your friends sign a Confidentiality Agreement before showing them your designs.

2) Injury at a haunted house

Maybe you’re going to the Winchester House of Mystery this Halloween, or an equally famous location. Or maybe your neighbor revealed, with suspiciously fortuitous timing, that his house is haunted, and he wants the whole neighborhood to stop by. Or maybe there’s a mysterious mansion/shack on the corner that you want to explore. Regardless, while wandering around the premises, you get caught in a spider web and then a creature that could be a cat, an actor, a ghost, or all three, startles you and causes you to fall down the stairs. You manage to escape with your life, but you’re pretty injured, or at least, your ankle kind of hurts. What do you do?

Well, if you were trespassing, you’ll just have to nurse your injuries yourself, as you definitely don’t have a case. And if you signed a Release of Liability to enter the haunted house, there’s not much you can do there either, since you assumed the risks involved in such a venture. Anyone who’s seen a horror movie, or any TV show ever, knows what these risks might include: tripping, running into walls, getting covered in ectoplasm, etc etc.

Now, if the management was grossly negligent and nails were sticking out of the walls and floor in a dark hallway, you might have a case. But you may have to prove that it was the management’s fault and not the poltergeists. That’s right, a house can be deemed legally haunted, at least according to Stambovsky v. Ackley. Sometimes the law is a mysterious thing.

3) Stealing candy

Anyone who’s ever had their hard-earned candy stolen has probably thought of taking the thief—often a sibling—to court. But how much candy has to be stolen for it to be worth it? Some people would say it’s about the principle of the matter, not the monetary value. Others may only want to sue if the loot is worth more than the filing fees for Small Claims Court. You have to be over 18 to take a case to small claims court, which is a little old for most trick-or-treaters. Luckily for aggrieved minors, parents and guardians can sue on your behalf.

If the neighborhood bully knocks your sibling down to grab their pillowcase of candy, you may be able to claim assault. In the event of a ninja, pirate, or ninja-pirate attack, you may even be able to claim armed assault.

However, before you get carried away with the injustice of it all, may we remind you that bags upon bags of Halloween candy are available at pretty much every store in the United States, and they’re often cheaper the day after. Plus, you can go straight for the good stuff, and avoid the jolly ranchers.

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