Halloween can be a scary time for a lot of people. Every year on October 31, creatures like ghosts, goblins, vampires, and werewolves roam the streets in search of their prey. Well, maybe not prey, but they are certainly seen going door to door in search of candy.
If you think a few kids in costumes from Party City are scary, imagine one of them being injured on your property…
It has become a tradition each year for children to knock on doors in their neighborhoods with the famous phrase “trick or treat”. They open their bags and the kind person standing at the door drops some candy inside.
But what happens if one of those smiling children or their parents were injured on the property of the homeowner? In New Jersey, the homeowner may be liable.
A “trick or treater” is defined by New Jersey law as a licensee. A licensee is a person who has the right to enter or remain on land with the consent of the person who owns the land. As a result of its status as a licensee, the homeowner has a duty to protect the “trick or treater”.
Essentially, if the homeowner knows that there is a dangerous condition on their property and reasonably believes that the “trick or treater” would not see the condition and avoid it, the homeowner must either warn the “trick or treater” or make the condition safe. For example:
Peter has decided to dress as a ghost this year and he covers himself with a white sheet, but he cuts out two small holes for his eyes. Terry owns a house on Peter’s block. Terry has a bowl full of candy ready for “trick or treaters” but due to long hours at work; Terry hasn’t been able to cut his grass for 3 months. Terry also hasn’t had a chance to take care of the large hole in his porch steps, which he caused when he dropped his set of weights on it. In fact, Terry’s grass has gotten so long, that it drapes over the hole in the porch steps completely concealing the hole. As Terry stands at the door waiting for Peter and his friends to come to his front door, he sees Peter’s ghost costume and notices that Peter is having some trouble seeing through the holes. As Peter gets to the porch steps, his right ankle gets caught in the hole and he breaks his ankle.
Terry was aware that there was a dangerous condition on his property (the hole) and he reasonably believed that a “trick or treater” would not see the hole (because the grass covered it and his eyes were covered), yet Terry did not warn Peter (either by shouting to him or putting up a sign) to avoid the hole. Terry also did not fix the hole before Halloween.
While this may seem like an extreme example, it will happen more than you think this year. Halloween can be a great time for kids and adults alike, but one bad step can ruin everyone’s fun. If you are trick or treating, be careful of any unknown hidden dangers. If you are a homeowner, be sure to check your property for liability before the big day and make sure you are aware of any and all possible dangerous conditions. Don’t let your Halloween experience turn into a nightmare…