Halloween brings pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and haunted houses. I am all for a little bit of fun this Halloween season but there are some people that take things too far. I recently watched a video where a prankster thought it’d be funny to dress up as the character “Jason” from the movie “Halloween.” He crept up behind people with a machete and a hidden camera filmed the unsuspecting victim’s reactions. This is supposed to be funny.
I have two issues with this prank. First, I believe videos that shows pranks like this desensitizes people’s reactions to legitimate threats in the future. Call it “the boy who cried wolf” syndrome. People may not react when a serious situation arises because they do not want to be embarrassed by a potential “candid camera” that will then be used to laugh at a person. Second, I’m concerned about the victims. These pranksters might be liable under civil law for assault or intentional infliction of emotional distress and the victims would be entitled to compensation for their damages.
I believe that the best cause of action that could be brought against the prankster in Wisconsin is an intentional infliction of emotional distress. There are four factors the victim must prove: (1) that the prankster’s conduct was intended to cause emotional distress; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) that the conduct was a cause of the person’s emotional distress; and (4) that the emotional distress was extreme and disabling.
In order to recover, the victim must prove that their response caused them to be unable to function in other relationships because of the emotional distress caused by the conduct. Temporary discomfort is not enough.
The second way a person might be liable for their conduct is classifying their actions as assault. Assault is defined as a defendant (the prankster) intending to cause physical harm to another (the victim) and the prankster acted to cause the victim to reasonable believe that the prankster had the present intent and ability to harm the victim.
Wisconsin case law currently does not follow most other states that hold that just the intent to cause apprehension or fear is enough to prove assault. That fact might make it more difficult to argue an assault case in Wisconsin.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Assault are things everyone should take seriously. Halloween can be a fun time for all ages. Enjoy the season by being safe and smart.