Ha-law-ween: Presenting a few tricky cases as our Halloween treat

Ha-law-ween: Presenting a few tricky cases as our Halloween treat

Because of the pandemic, Halloween celebrations last year were held mostly online. But this year, as the State of Washington continues to recover from the pandemic, Halloween traditions such as trick-or-treat and scavenger hunt are back — albeit with proper precautions. So in the spirit of spooking you safely, let us treat you to tales of Halloween-themed lawsuits that refuse to die and continue to haunt us every year.

Sticks and stones break bones, but tombstones hurt me, too

Halloween decorations are supposed to amuse or scare, but in a 2009 case in Riverview, Florida, they allegedly defamed a neighbor.

Ellen Salama accused her neighbor Kristy Elizabeth Deaton of maligning her with the latter’s Halloween decorations. The supposedly offensive decoration was one of the homemade tombstones that Deacon placed on her lawn, which read:

“At 48 she had/ no mate no date/ it’s no debate/ she looked 88.
She met her fate/ in a crate/ now we celebrate/ 1961-2009.”

The last line would have rhymed better a year earlier.

In her lawsuit, Salama insisted that the insulting inscription on the tombstone referred to her, particularly since she was born in 1961. Deaton claimed she had no idea that it was Salama’s birth year.

It turned out, animosity had been building up between the two and it merely culminated in Halloween. Salama claimed that Deaton yelled expletives at her and referred to her as “the crazy lady.” Aside from putting up the tombstones, Deaton further mocked Salama by dressing up like her at Halloween.

Deaton disputed all of Salama’s accusations. She said her tombstone copy was just a bunch of “quirky, silly tombstone sayings” similar to the ones in Disney theme parks. She claimed Salama sued her because she refused Salama’s requests to drive for her, cook her food, or even help her meet men.

By December 2009, Salama sold her Riverview house and moved out. A month later, she filed a lawsuit against Deaton, claiming Deaton’s actions made her fear for her life. But a Riverview neighbor disputed Salama’s claim, saying that she saw Salama confront Deaton at a public area. As the neighbor told Deaton’s lawyer, “So (Salama) couldn’t have been too scared.”

A hot mess of a case — and a Halloween costume

Couple costumes are cute when executed properly. That’s probably why Susan and Frank Ferlito dressed up as Little Bo Peep and her sheep for a Halloween party in 1984. Frank’s sheep costume consisted of Johnson & Johnson Products, Inc. (J&J) cotton balls glued to long underwear. But when his costume caught fire while he tried to light his cigarette using a butane lighter, Frank didn’t think it was cute at all.

The couple sued J&J, claiming that their cotton balls didn’t have any warning label indicating that cotton is flammable. In November 1989, the jury deemed the couple was “50% at fault” and awarded them US$ 625,000 in damages. J&J filed a motion to appeal the court’s decision. But the presiding judge died before he could reach a decision. The case was reassigned, and in 1991, J&J successfully petitioned for a new trial because the Ferlitos had admitted they knew cotton would burn if exposed to an open flame. In 1992, the new judge ruled in favor of J&J.

Can a prank be a crime?

It was a couple of days before Halloween 2008, and the owner of a Kentucky restaurant wanted to pull a prank on one of his employees. So Joe Watkins, owner of Chicken Ranch restaurant, proceeded to lie in a pool of blood (presumably fake, of course), and played dead. Unfortunately, a different employee came in, saw her boss and blood, and ran out screaming and calling the cops on her cellphone.

Watkins tried to call the terrified employee on her cellphone; surprisingly, she didn’t answer. Watkins then called the police to tell them it was a prank, and they were not amused. They arrived at the scene and arrested Watkins for making a false report.

Some may think the prank was merely juvenile and should be brushed off. Others may wonder why Watkins was charged with making a false police report when it was his employee who called the police. Unfortunately for Mr. Watkins, under Kentucky law, a prank that leads to a false report is considered a crime.

Now that’s scary.

If there’s something strange in your lawsuit, who you gonna call?

Halloween is a time to be scared silly. But no matter how strange or silly a lawsuit sounds, like customers who sue because they injured themselves while running away from a chainsaw-wielding actor, there’s no need to be scared. Just call on our experienced lawyers in family law and personal injury, and we’ll take care of you. No tricks, just treats.

If you’re in Washington state and in need of legal services, then schedule an appointment with Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams today.