Monday, October 31, 2016
Updated October 31, 2017 by attorney Brent Couture
There is always one family in the neighborhood that goes all out for Halloween. Your kids marvel in wonder each time you pass as the lights flicker, the spooky music blares, headstones litter the lawn-turned-cemetery and apparitions peek through windows, suggesting that the home sees more than just invited guests one month out of the year. Not to be outdone – and wanting to be a cool parent and neighbor – you vow that this Halloween will be different, as you drive home from the holiday-themed store, car filled with accessories from the netherworld.
While theres nothing wrong with catching a bit of Halloween spirit, doing so with a bit of foresight could save you a lot of heartache later.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
Every day of the year, Floridians have a responsibility to maintain their Melbourne or Titusville property such that the possibility of an accident is reduced to an absolute minimum. One can argue this is especially true on Halloween, when it’s expected that children will parade up your driveway and knock on your door.
You are legally responsible for the safety of anyone you invite onto your property, and nothing is as inviting as the mystique of Halloween decorations. Your neighbors are probably wonderful people, but that becomes insignificant if their children get hurt in your front yard.
To ensure that a fun, safe time is had by all, it helps to understand some of the most common (and dangerous) mistakes people make when decorating their front yards for Halloween:
- Proper Lighting: While flickering lights add a neat ghostly effect, they greatly increase the chances of a misstep and fall. An injury suffered in a fall due to inadequate lighting can lead to a premises liability lawsuit. Other holiday lighting effects could be even more dangerous. A strobe-light, for example, could affect a person’s equilibrium – especially a child’s – and could trigger a fall. It also could trigger seizures in children with epilepsy, and degrade the judgment of passing drivers. Playing with lights isn’t worth the risk. Ensure that your driveway is well lighted to help keep neighborhood kids safe.
- Decorations… or Obstacles? At first glance, those faux headstones on your lawn are sure to delight your visiting trick-or-treaters. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a child to trip and fall over such items, and if that happens – and the child is seriously hurt – you’re liable for the injuries. If this sounds a bit paranoid, consider that many children wear costumes that are unfamiliar; some that obscure their vision, and some that weight them down just a little bit. A fraction of an inch can be the difference between clearing an obstacle and a serious head injury. Why create a potential problem that most property owners strive to eliminate?
- Not-So-Special Effects: A Smoke machine adds a festive, eerie effect to your home, but it also adds new dangers. Limiting the vision of a trick-or-treater is not advisable for many of the reasons mentioned above, and dry ice – which is used to create the effect – could lead to serious burns if it touches human skin. Use of such devices should be left to professionals.
- Exposed Wires: If you decorate your lawn with lighted inflatables or similar items, make sure the wires are secured. Burying or covering them will drastically minimize the chance of trips or even electric shock.
SECURE YOUR PROPERTY
Decorations aside, it’s important to ensure that your property is free from everyday hazards.
- Gardening Equipment: Remember that rake you left in your front yard last week? That’s a real hazard to the eager trick-or-treater who cuts across your lawn to your front door. Secure all gardening tools and anything else that can't easily be seen in the dark.
- Debris: Hurricane Matthew left us with quite a mess. Ensure your lawn is free of debris the night before – or better yet – right before dusk on Halloween. Wet leaves can easily cause slips and falls. Fallen branches are virtually invisible at night and could cause a child to trip.
- Sprinklers: If Mother Nature keeps your lawn dry on Halloween, you probably should, too. Postponing a scheduled sprinkler run on that day won't hurt your lawn, but it will help reduce the chances of a slippery mishap.
WHEN IN DOUBT – SUPERVISE
In 2017, October 31st falls on a Tuesday, meaning you probably won’t start seeing visitors until late afternoon. Here in Melbourne and Titusville, the sun sets at 6:38 p.m. Given that most trick-or-treaters will be home by 9 p.m., isn’t it worth taking a few hours out of the year to ensure that the neighborhood children arrive at – and leave – your home safe and sound? We think so.
This year, take steps to ensure that you avoid a premises liability suit. The Melbourne slip and fall lawyers at Couture Law P.A. wish you a very happy and safe Halloween.