Are Haunted House Waivers Legally Enforceable?

FOTOKITA/iStock via Getty Images
FOTOKITA/iStock via Getty Images

Before you step into a haunted house attraction this Halloween season, you might be prompted to sign or at least offer an electronic acknowledgment of a waiver. These documents make it clear that patrons entering a spooky gauntlet of chainsaw-wielding goons and bloody terrors are assuming a certain level of risk. Running away from an axe-toting maniac, for example, might result in a slip and a nasty bruise or bone break.

Are these disclaimers just marketing gimmicks? Or can a waiver really insulate haunted houses from being sued?

For the most part, an attendee entering a place designed to scare and startle is doing so at their own peril, according to David Hoffman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “It’s a little like going to a baseball game,” Hoffman tells Mental Floss. “You’re assuming the risk of getting hit by the ball.”

That hasn’t stopped people from trying to pursue legal remedies for suffering injuries on haunted premises. In 1996, the family of a 10-year-old girl sued a haunted attraction in Louisiana because the youngster ran into a wall covered in black plastic sheeting after being spooked by an employee. The appeals court, however, found that such circumstances were understood to be part of a place decorated for the purpose of frightening guests. In 2011, a man in San Diego filed a lawsuit after walking out of a haunted house and being surprised by an employee revving a chainsaw. Terrified, he ran, fell, and injured both of his wrists. Once again, the court found in favor of the business. He was there to be scared: Mission accomplished.

Hoffman cautions that while these episodes are common, the nature of a haunted outlet doesn’t give operators the right to ignore a needlessly reckless hazard. A guest should reasonably expect creatures and dark surroundings, but not, for example, a giant hole in the floor, or an employee who acts so aggressively that you’re injured. “You run the risk of running into a wall, but not necessarily the risk of being tackled or assaulted,” he says.

To that end, a woman in Pontiac, Michigan sued Erebus Haunt Attraction in 2014 after a moving wall knocked her down, leading to leg fractures and other injuries. The two parties settled in 2015 for $125,000.

Erebus printed a disclaimer on admission tickets, but that may not offer much protection. For one thing, Hoffman says, haunted locales would have to prove the disclaimer was read by guests and that they had the option to get a refund if they refused to agree to terms.

The bottom line? No one is forced to visit a Halloween scare maze. If you do, you’re not all that likely to find a sympathetic court if you should happen to be injured while running away from one of its creepy denizens in the process. The real waiver is in willingly giving over money to be scared. Barring a grossly negligent hazard, you’re assuming all the risk.

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Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to HuffPost, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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