Oct. 15--A successful haunted attraction creates the illusion that you're no longer safe; that the ax man can hurt you and you can't escape the confines of a decrepit house.
But there is the chance that someone could sustain an injury trying to find the exit to a haunted house or running when spooked, so haunted attraction business owners seek out a special line of insurance to protect themselves for those few weeks out of the year. And that insurance often plays a role in designing a haunt.
"What we try to do is work closely with our insurance company to find out where do issues arise," said Patrick Konopelski, owner of Shocktoberfest in Spring Township and Sinking Spring. "What do people do in the industry that is a cause for claims?"
Robin Walker, program manager for haunted house and themed attractions at InPro Insurance Group in Michigan, said the market of those who write insurance policies for haunted attractions is very small, but they accommodate increasing needs of farms turning more toward agritourism.
"As these farms look for other ways to increase income, they've gone through the agritourism format a little bit more," Walker said.
Pennsylvania requires haunted attractions to get insurance, but Brett Lipton, president of Castle Rock Insurance Agency in New York, which provides insurance coverage to haunted attractions in Pennsylvania, said there are smaller haunted attractions that operate for a few days without an insurance policy, which he doesn't recommend. He compared it to driving without legally required coverage.
Insurance policies can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $20,000, depending on what is covered and for how long, gross sales and attendance. With the burgeoning agritainment industry in Pennsylvania, many of the larger haunted attractions get insurance policies to cover other attractions throughout the year, then add the haunted element in the fall.
Konopelski is president and Schopf vice president of the Haunted Attraction Association, an organization which, among other things, works with haunted attraction owners to teach them about safety efforts for their guests and employees, Konopelski said. Unlike haunted houses, he said, insurance companies don't like surprises.
"We learn about potential problems and either avoid them altogether or ensure safety when designing an attraction," Konopelski said.
Haunted attractions, in compliance with insurers and to ensure safety, use various strategies for safety measures, such as signage, appropriate lighting for navigation and easy exits. Like amusement parks that fall under the regulation of the Department of Agriculture, haunted attractions are also subject to safety inspections.
Props and products that insurance companies generally don't sign off on because they're known to be problematic include slides, moving floors, pyrotechnics, weaponry, live animals and nooses.
"A noose conjures up fear and death, and people are tempted to use that as a decoration or a scene, but when made properly, it can be a killing device," Konopelski said.
Schopf said he frequently gets requests from guests to add elements such as objects flying overtop the wagon going through the cornfield. He even had an offer from someone who wanted to wear a suit and light himself on fire.
"But you have to keep in mind you're in a cornfield with a wagon full of people surrounded by dry corn," he said.
So while it may make people scream, he has to cast aside any ideas that could be a liability.
Konopelski and Schopf said they've been fortunate enough to have avoided any serious injuries at their businesses.
Bumps and bruises are injuries that occur sometimes, they said, and insurance policy writers said those are mainly what they see.
"It's mostly a bump on the head, when someone jumps backward and hits the head of the person behind them," Walker said, noting that even those are infrequent. "Very rarely do you get something too serious."
Haunted attractions keep emergency medical technicians on-site for minor injuries or if something more serious should happen.
"If there is a major issue, it can affect everyone's premiums, but it can also affect whether people go to haunted houses," Konopelski said.
That was the case a few years ago, Lipton said, when an insurance company exited the business after a major incident rattled the market for insurance premiums for haunted attractions.
Walker said she's noticed that more insurance claims for minor injuries have trickled in over the years, and along with that, insurance premiums have increased.
That doesn't necessarily mean that haunted attractions are more dangerous, but perhaps are more popular to attend. She said this observation makes it more important to get adequate coverage.
"It's one little claim that has the ability to put you out of business," Walker said.
Contact Amy Friedenberger: 610-371-5066 or email@example.com.
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