It was a dark and stormy night.
Well, perhaps not stormy, but it was dark in 2006 when Dakari Shaw decided to go with a group of friends to Camp Fear in Ellisville, Mississippi.
Camp Fear is one of those haunted house adventures that sprout up across the countryside like pumpkins every fall.
One of Camp Fear’s prime attractions back in 2006 was a cabin in which kids and teens ran around in the dark with flashing strobe lights randomly robbing them of their night vision.
This already sounds like a bad idea.
The climax to the attraction came when a frightening creature called “Ring Girl” would pop up from a “well” and send everybody fleeing from the cabin into the night.
Adding spice to this mass exodus was the fact that outside the cabin door was a darkened porch and set of steps.
You know someone was bound to get hurt in this kind of setup, and that someone was our Dakari.
Yep, running for his life from Ring Girl, Dakari missed one of the steps outside the cabin, fell and seriously injured himself.
Dakari sued the operators of Camp Fear for negligence.
Now here’s the scary part: Camp Fear was operated by a state agency entitled to governmental immunity.
Yep, Camp Fear was operated by and for the benefit of the Ellisville State School. The school serves the mentally disabled and is an agency of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
So this was an uphill battle for any personal injury attorney. Not only would you be dealing with the immunity issue, but what jury is going to be inclined to return a verdict against a school that helps the mentally retarded?
Surprisingly, a state judge hearing Dakari’s personal injury suit refused to grant the Ellisville State School summary judgment on the ground of governmental immunity.
But earlier this month, just in time for Halloween, the Mississippi Supreme Court righted what appeared to be an obvious wrong.
Dakari tried to argue that the school’s operation of Camp Fear as a fund-raising event brought it outside the protections of the state’s governmental immunity law.
But the court rejected the notion that Camp Fear was a “commercial” activity, deciding that the school’s promotion of the event qualified for discretionary-act immunity.
“[W]e find the promotion of Camp Fear involved social and economic policy decisions and so was a discretionary function that qualifies for immunity,” the court said. (Mississippi Department of Mental Health v. Shaw)
- Pat Murphy