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. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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