Joke or Tort: Elevator Prank Raises The Question of Liability After The Laughs

We have previously discussed the potential liability stemming from pranks. This video sent to me by a former student seems the perfect avenue for an infliction of emotional distress claim or negligence claim after inducing a heart attack in the subject.

The little creepy girl chasing the one man adds another opportunity for injury that we can see in other cases.

The prank is actually well-done and it is precisely the care for detail that makes it so creepy and frightful. Notably, the subjects obviously did not consent to be scared and did not assume the risk. Any resulting harm, therefore, would likely be found an intentional or reckless act.

What do you think?

Kudos: Jake Kartchner

49 thoughts on “Joke or Tort: Elevator Prank Raises The Question of Liability After The Laughs

  1. WOW! That girl is quite the little actress! I would think it very dangerous to do that, as you NEVER know whose hearts are not up to it. Until it’s too late. And even if someone had a mild attack, there would be heart damage that shouldn’t have been. But it definitely was wonderfully done; would be a great thing to do in a movie or something. But real life is too iffy, and I would think that it would be HUGE liability (not to mention punitives)!

    Of course I’ve heard the arguments from someone before when we were talking about hearts failing from tasering, that ”they would have had a heart attack anyway!” That didn’t do it for me with the tasering incidents, and it would not for a prank incident.

  2. Smells like a tort to me. I am not a fan of any kind of practical joke anyway. I never thought practical jokes were funny, and are often cruel.

  3. Just b/c someone may have a heart attack in the future is no excuse for accelerating the process with tasers or scary elevator incidents.

  4. I have to agree with Gene and OS that this is a tort action waiting to happen. I could see anyone of those “victims” being scared into a heart attack or psychological problems. Holy crap. It scared me watching it on the computer!

  5. OS,

    I’m not a fan of practical jokes either. It has been my experience that there are two broad kinds of sense of humor: those who think practical jokes and prank calls are funny and those who don’t. I’m the later without question.



    A lot of the Candid Camera style shows from south of the border are like this example. This one isn’t even the worst I’ve seen.

  6. I have had the sh** scared out of me as a youth. Almost traumatically on occasion. The purpose was for “fun” So I not wanting to show wimpiness adjusted and laughed. Then to further prove my “toughness” I too participated in scaring the sh** out of other pigeons. This did not settle within me well. Something inside me recognized it as cruel. I believe there are many weak reasons and unhealthy reasons that it is done. Perhaps there are healthy reasons ? I don’t know. Anyways I out grew it.
    By the time I had children the thought of scaring the sh** out of people was not even a thought in my mind. except for an occasional well timed Boo.
    I innocently did a boo to a friendly patron on my route, it was TOO well timed, I scared the sh** out of her (traumatically almost). I felt like a total heel.
    I did it in my youth, I don’t consider it anymore. If its’ purpose is to enhance joy, scaring the sh** out of people seems to miss its mark quite often.
    I only watched the first two examples on the video. I laughed. I did not watch the rest. I am to this day uncomfortable laughing at people that are in terror, or terrified by a joke. I think I empathize with the victim, yet just now I laughed at the situation. So just to clarify my confusion, am I laughing at cruelty, or laughing at cleverness?

  7. I suppose as far as torts go, why even set up a prank such as this knowing the possibility for a lawsuit might ensue. Candid camera we know in the past is essentially one that made light of either embarassment or surprises not horrifying people like this. Kind of the difference between the old fake snake flying out of the opened peanut brittle can contrasted to a real snake dropped in one’s lap.

    There is one thing along the side to consider. Should we be such a closed society that banishes all behavior that might have even the slightest chance of inducing a heart attack in a person? I’m talking the one in a million case. Do we forbid the candid camera or innocent practical joke? I wouldn’t like to see such a strict code of society that would be the product of such draconian restrictions.

    But in this example, I would say the fear and horror displayed by some of these people was unacceptable for what the makers of the video did. I would argue if it went to a tort the purpose of making the video was to make money in some form by horrifying these persons. So they inflicted the emotional duress on these unsuspecting persons to make money from the spectacle. Pretty hard it would be for them to argue they did not intend to inflict emotional duress at trial.

  8. Many of these shows are all staged, I have no idea if this one is or if they actually pulled these stunts.

    Other than that, whats the harm – as long as the physical pain or emotional trauma is happening to someone other than me its all great fun. You lawyers are sucking the joy out of life. But if it happened to me can I have your number?

  9. I’m with Gene H and OS on this one. I’ve never been able to figure out why subjecting someone to fear, personal embarrassment and/or public humilation is considered a “joke”, let alone calling such juvenile and inconsiderate behavior “practical”. “Punking” seems to be the current vernacular. I guess I wouldn’t have lasted very long on an MLB team or on a film set where they’re perpetrated all too often.

  10. I join with others in saying this is a tort and also such behavior has never amused me. Part of becoming a mature adult is the understanding that your amusements can have serious repercussions for others. The consequences of ones behavior need to be foreseen, or one is acting with stupidity and/or callousness. Playing “jokes” on people usually has at base the fulfillment of sadistic pleasure. While it is possible to “prank” people in an affectionate, funny and gentle way, those addicted to it usually have darker motives.

  11. This is sadistic. While “practical jokes” always have someone being the butt of the joke, the key is can the person who is the butt of the joke after some time elapses, laugh @ it. Being an introvert, I startle easily. I would NEVER be able to laugh @ this. Humor is very important to a healthy life. I’m always wary of humorless people. Practical jokes have a negativity to them. Usually, they’re harmless like a spill cup or fake poop. The “comedy” in this video is mean. I’m pretty conservative in labelling something a tort, but this is.

  12. When “Just For Laughs” pranks people, the jokes are never mean-spirited or hurtful. The victim of the prank sees the humour after the fact and there’s no harm done.

    That Brazilian TV show _is_ mean spirited (pun definitely NOT intended) and causes people distress. It’s not funny, and I wouldn’t blame the victims of the pranks for suing.

    The first prank in the video below (at :10 seconds) was also mean-spirited and not well thought out. However, it’s funny because the pranksters are the ones who got hurt. They didn’t considering the consequences or how people around them would react.

    The savate practitioner can’t be blamed for the injury he caused. He thought he was stopping a crime.

  13. rcampbell, Practical jokes are a mainstay of MLB teams, as you said. But again, they run the gamut. I like the latest one that is just silly. The jokester blows a huge bubble w/ a wad of bubblegum and then very gently places it on the cap of a teammate. It takes some skill and the humiliation is very low on the 1-10 scale. Could you abide that?

  14. I like passive time-delay practical jokes. When I left my last military unit, I was left alone in the detachment HQ, while just about everyone else was out at the range. I took a black stamp pad and pressed the ear pieces of the (then standard black) telephones into it (except the detachment commander and first sergeant – I’m not stupid) before leaving. Similar to something you’d do to eye pieces of binoculars for raccoon eyes. Felt it best not to wait around for the results.

    No harm, no foul, just good fun.

  15. P Smith, I hurt my groin just watching that guy kick so high!!.

    Poetic justice?

    This convinces me that Suh ( a detroit lion football player) accidently on purpose connected with intent, his foot with the “coin purse” of Shaub the houston quarterback.

    People that are physically well trained can do amazing things.

  16. Yes, there could be lawsuits stemming from this sort of behavior. Personally I was waiting for the person who broke out a gun, a machete, or simply their fists and attacked the “ghost”.

    Main reason any lawsuits are rare is in those cases where it isn’t staged the idea of getting a bit of celebrity by being on the television will cause people to accept far worse things than this prank.

  17. lolol, There is concrete thinking and then there is concrete thinking. I would have hated to have taught this woman when she was a kid.

  18. I don’t get it. I only watched the first 2 segments but seeing someone down on their knees in abject terror for some reason, does not want to make me laugh. I saw post from thread about 2 1/2 men and coarsening of society. That people think others in fear and being hurt is funny, that is coarsening of society. (I never got funniest home videos for same reason, altho much tamer, much of it seemed to be about people hurting themselves or getting hurt.)

  19. Copy that, OS.

    The really scary part is that gal is allowed to drive in the first place. Or out of the house without a minder for that matter. Also, her idea of moving them to school crossings is the idea of someone who thinks deer are like they are in “Bambi”. I’m thinking stags in rut and kids are not a good mix. A cloven hoof to the head or an antler to the gut is a bad way to start off the school year.

  20. bettykath, LOL! Best video in a long time. The fact that she’s from Fargo makes that great flick even a bit more enjoyable. Her driving doesn’t scare me as much as the fact that she is allowed to vote!

  21. The deer lady is Donna and it’s legit. She really was confused. Of course she heard from all sorts of people who straightened her out. She’s accepted that she was ignorant and that it was funny.

  22. The guy shooting the spitting mail box is lucky that it wasn’t a person inside pushing the mail back out. Or was it a person inside who is no longer alive? Manslaughter? Justifiable homicide?

  23. Only in the new socialist states of America is this even discussed. Sue Sue Sue…. Sheesh, can noone take a joke in this country anymore?

  24. Kelly;

    The equivalent here is an actor dressed as a cop standing in your doorway and explaining to you that your spouse, better yet your child, was just killed in an accident. Still sound as funny to you?

  25. Megyn, I am troubled by your response to this story. I was sexually assaulted repeatedly as a child. My attacker came at all hours, in many different places. I never knew when or where it would happen. I developed PTSD, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks . . . and to this day, at 54 years old, I still have over-the-top reactions to events which surprise me. Mental illness is a debilitating illness. It is one that others can’t see. Just because you don’t see someone have a physical injury does not mean they were not injured. I thought you were better than this. By better, I mean smarter. You are a professional, act like one. Keep your insensitive and ignorant sense of humor to yourself. Stick to the facts.

  26. ann printz, in an above comment I mentioned that I said Boo to a customer. The reaction she showed shamed me for doing this “innocent act” I believe I triggered something in her that turned my “little” attempt at humor into a powerful negative reaction. I have learned and remembered.

    I just read many responses to this cruel prank on Huff Po.

    I would like to know why I as a youth accepted this behavior, and so many adults still do. It is so common and I believe world wide, I almost think it is ingrained in us and there is some evolutionary reason for it. ???

    My reasoning mind, finds pranks as terrible as this cruel. My animal (?) psyche reacted to it initially in a way most uncomfortable to my reason.

  27. I have a book that has the full Grimms fairy tales in it. Absolutely gruesome.
    It should be called “Stories to scare children to death”

    Fortunately I came by this book as an adult. I had the old run of the mill “you’re going to burn in hell and suffer for eternity” stories of established Religion :o) …. My simple question is WHY ??

  28. Unbelievable !! I just found this video, I am going to send it to my 3 month old grandson.(his mom and dad may help him view it).

    At 2min30secs this baby laughs. The full viewing is great, especially for recent grandfathers. Those less enthused yet still interested I suggest starting at two minutes. At 230 the babys FIRST laugh is prompted by a ……… drum roll please ***** a Boo !!! yes air does hit the babies face from the boo sayer, but the coincidence of me finding this just now after my last comment, is cause for me to post it.

  29. BrianM, My daughter loved “pull my finger” as a kid. And, I can really rip them. With trepidations, I taught her how to light a fart.

  30. Betty, thanks so much for that video; I hadn’t seen it, it totally rocks! Can’t believe that it has over 10,000,000 hits on it since November 8th! It deserves it though; I couldn’t stop laughing! Sounds like some people didn’t watch her follow up, AFTERwards! HAH! Posting it here; it was really cute too! To hear what happened to her as soon as she hung up and started getting the calls from people who knew her! TOO funny!

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