Tricks, treats and torts: 4 scary-real Halloween lawsuits

Bizarre, NakedLaw

You can have your headless horseman. Your walking dead. Your snaggle-toothed witch on a broomstick cackling at the moon. But if you want a real fright this Halloween, take a look at some of these scary-real lawsuits.

Dead wrong: Salama v. Deaton

Ellen Salama filed suit against her Riverview, Florida, neighbor Kristy Elizabeth Deaton saying she was routinely harassed, defamed and feared for her life. As evidence, Salama pointed to Halloween 2009, when Deaton erected homemade tombstones on her lawn with inscriptions Salama took personally.

One grave marker 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.” Another read, “Paranoia will destroy ya. Ima crazy zee. 1961-2009.”

Salama, who was 48 and single at the time, claimed the tombstones defamed her. Deaton, however, said, “They’re just quirky, silly tombstone sayings.”

Black sheep: Ferlito v. Johnson & Johnson

In 1989, Susan and Frank Ferlito attended a Halloween party. She dressed up as Little Bo Peep while he, adorned in cotton balls, went as the sheep.

During a cigarette break, Frank Ferlito’s costume caught on fire. The couple subsequently sued Johnson & Johnson Products Inc. for not having a warning on the cotton balls declaring the product flammable.

A jury decided that the couple was 50 percent at fault and awarded them $625,000. On appeal, the verdict was set aside. The court noted that cotton is “a simple product with all its essential characteristics apparent, including flammability.”

Grave mistake: Purtell v. Mason

Some people just can’t leave it at R.I.P. In another case of tombstone taunting, Jeffrey Purtell of Illinois filed suit against a police officer who removed Purtell’s Halloween gravestones after neighbors expressed concern at the threatening remarks placed on the tombstones.

One tombstone read, “Here lies Jimmy, The Old Towne Idiot. Mean as sin, even without his gin. No longer does he wear that stupid grin … oh no, not where they’ve sent him.”

Bruce Mason, a local police officer, responded to the neighbors’ complaints and removed the tombstones. Purtell then filed a suit against Mason, claiming he had infringed on his First Amendment rights.

In the end, the court ruled the grave markers were threatening and could “incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

A bloody fright: Kentucky v. Watkins

In the Halloween spirit of guts and gore, Joe Watkins, manager of Chicken Ranch restaurant in Paris, Kentucky, decided to scare his fellow employees and lie in wait in a puddle of fake blood.

The only problem was that a patron saw him first and ran from the restaurant screaming, calling the police on her cellphone. Watkins was charged with having caused the woman to make a false police report.

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