For most people, Halloween is a time to be someone other than themselves and enjoy a party atmosphere. But occasionally, those relaxed inhibitions can result in legal trouble. Take a look at several strange cases involving costume malfunctions, collapsing pumpkins, and other spooky court filings.
1. An Inflammatory Situation
In 1984, Michigan natives Frank and Susan Ferlito attended a Halloween party. Susan was dressed as Mary of Mary and Her Little Lamb fame; Frank was her animal sidekick. Susan achieved Frank's lamb look by gluing cotton batting made by Johnson & Johnson to his long underwear, effectively covering him in flammable material from head to toe. For reasons known only to Frank Ferlito, he decided to light a cigarette using a butane lighter. His left arm was set ablaze, and Frank suffered burns on over a third of his body.
The coupled sued Johnson & Johnson. In 1989, a jury awarded Frank Ferlito $555,000 and Susan Ferlito $70,000. In 1991, Johnson & Johnson was successful in petitioning for a new trial, in part because the Ferlitos had each admitted to knowing that cotton would burn if it was exposed to flames. While the plaintiffs argued that the cotton didn’t have a warning, Frank also admitted he ignored the warnings on cigarette packages, meaning it wouldn't have altered their behavior. A Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in 1992.
2. A Rotten Inflatable Pumpkin
For years, Milwaukee resident Jon Majdoch enjoyed a brisk seasonal business operating a number of temporary Halloween shops named Halloween Express. The “shops” were actually housed underneath a giant, 100-foot diameter inflatable pumpkin. Though high winds had once blown one along a freeway, there were no major issues. In 2017, however, Majdoch custom ordered a smaller inflatable pumpkin so that he could set up a smaller store in the parking lot of a home goods store. The item came from Larger Than Life Inflatables and another company, House of Bounce, assembled it. One day, it rained so hard that water pooled on top of the pumpkin and prompted it to collapse. No one was injured, but Majdoch’s inventory was ruined. His insurance company, Hastings Mutual, paid out a six-figure policy and sued both Larger Than Life Inflatables and House of Bounce alleging manufacturing defects. The litigation is ongoing.
3. The Eyes Have It
If you’re considering wearing cosmetic contact lenses for Halloween, you might want to rethink that decision. A number of retailers have faced lawsuits from state attorney generals and consumers owing to eye damage caused by the non-prescription lenses. In 2016, Missouri attorney general Chris Koster filed a lawsuit against Gotcha Costume Rental for selling the lenses without a prescription, a violation of both state and federal laws. (Gotcha Costume Rental owner Aaro Froese agreed to comply with the law and only sell contacts to customers with prescriptions.) The lenses, which may not fit properly, can scratch the cornea and cause infection or even blindness. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) routinely offers a consumer warning that contacts are medical devices and should never be worn unless prescribed by an eye care professional.
4. Banana Appeal
With dozens of costume makers all over the world making every kind of costume imaginable, it’s easy to find similar products on store racks. But in the case of the banana costume, it turns out they may still be subject to copyright law. In 2017, costume manufacturer Rasta Imposta sued a number of companies, including Kmart and Kangaroo Manufacturing, for selling a banana costume they felt was infringing on their own. Citing things like the color and shape of the costume, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed, affirming in 2019 that Rasta Imposta’s banana was distinctive. In its ruling, the court wrote that the company was “entitled to the veritable fruits of its intellectual labor.”
5. Fright Night
Thanks to liability waivers, it's notoriously difficult to sue haunted houses for delivering what they promise: a good scare. In 2011, Scott Griffin and friends went to The Haunted Trail, a haunted attraction in San Diego, California. When Griffin reached the exit, he thought it was over. Instead, a man wielding a chainsaw moved toward him aggressively, catching Griffin by surprise and prompting him to run away—then fall and injure his wrist. Griffin sued the operators but couldn’t find any satisfaction. A trial court ruled in favor of the defendant, with the 4th District Court of Appeal affirming the ruling in 2015. It was, the judges determined, a case of someone paying money to experience “extreme fright” and receiving “exactly what he paid for.”
6. Spider Man
While this Halloween tale didn’t result in a lawsuit, it did affect a few attorneys in West Virginia. In 2015, Logan County assistant prosecutor Chris White reacted (some might say overreacted) to a small army of fake spiders that had been strung up for Halloween by pulling a gun and insisting that he was going to begin shooting the replicas. Logan County prosecuting attorney John Bennett was forced to suspend White over the incident, explaining that White really hates spiders and that the gun wasn’t actually loaded. The spider decorations were eventually removed.