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Scaring up haunted house insurance

If your church or civic organization plans to run a haunted house for the next Halloween, the terror should come from the witches and axe murderers lurking inside — not from potential liability to your organization.

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Organizations should look at their particular risk realistically and purchase appropriate coverage. Is your haunted house filled with spooks that jump out and other surprises, creating a risk that a visitor might have a heart attack? A creepy mansion might have dangerous dark stairways. A spook house designed for small children should have all the sharp corners taped over. Those differences — and a wide range of offerings from insurance underwriters — mean you should shop around for your haunted house insurance. Some underwriters will help you work out safer ways to set up what you want to do, which can reduce the price.

Hanging together or hanging separately

The amount of your exposure to lawsuits should help your group decide whether to purchase separate haunted house coverage or to simply pump up the liability insurance your group carries year-round. Whenever possible, lump it in with your regular events coverage because it’s more expensive to buy it separately. A separate haunted house policy may also require a minimum premium below which the insurer won’t go. The underwriter will have to determine if there would be more foot traffic than in, say, a retail store, often in the dark, and often in an area reconstructed or reconfigured for the haunted house, and possibly makeshift.

The exact risk is hard to determine. As a result, the insurer will have to charge a premium it feels will still make money. Large haunted houses might be rated on the basis of receipts. Premiums will also depend on the number of days the haunted house operates, how many people are expected, and anticipated gross sales. Coverage is typically liability for patrons, not staff or volunteers.

It is important to limit the use of strobe lights, and if used, direct them downward at specific objects and not directly at patrons as they navigate through the house.  This will limit the effects on patrons balance and could even reduce the incidence of seizures, which can be caused by strobe lights in certain individuals prone to seizures.

Shrinking head(aches)

You can reduce risks and, therefore, costs. Insurers generally prefer to take on haunted houses with:

  • Current wiring.
  • A current inspection certificate.
  • No stairs (or well-lit stairs).
  • No steep ramps.
  • No moving floors.
  • No tunnels or need to crawl at any time.
  • No slides.
  • No empty hangmen ropes.
  • No knives or swords (other than rubber).
  • No mechanical devices, such as bulls.

Scaring up coverage

Ask your regular insurance agent for haunted house coverage and you might get a glib remark like "to ensure it's haunted or that it is not?" (as happened to Insure.com). The confusion comes because very few insurance agents sell special-event coverage. You’ll need a good independent agent or broker who handles commercial (rather than personal) lines. Check the Yellow Pages under "Insurance," "Independent Insurance Agents," or "Insurance Brokers."

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