Lawsuit Doesn’t Stand Ghost Of A Chance

An Ohio Appellate Court recently handed down an interesting decision in a case involving a haunted Ohio farm. The owner of the Staley Farm (located in New Carlisle) brought a lawsuit against the authors of a book called “Weird Ohio” (and no jokes please about how that title is redundant). The book touts itself as “Your Travel Guide to Ohio’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.” Apparently, one of those legends involved “Old Man Staley,” the family patriarch. Mr. Staley apparently had a bad night years back, and murdered his entire household (family, servants, and ultimately himself) with an ax. According to the book, “[t]oday, it is said that if you drive down Staley Road late at night, an invisible force will grab hold of your car, causing it to do everything from swerving wildly to stalling out. Some have also reported headlights dying or horns `getting stuck’ and honking continually. There are even reports of seeing the ghost of Old Man Staley walking through the woods or pacing around the ruins of his old mansion.”

The plaintiff alleged that the book contributed to repeated incidents of trespassing at the farm by folks interested in the paranormal. It sought to hold the authors liable as aiders and abettors to the trespasses. As is frequently the case, the lawsuit also included a smorgasbord of other claims, including false light publicity, invasion of privacy, and infliction of emotional distress. The court dismissed the complaint in its entirety. One problem for the plaintiff was that the book contained a fairly prominent disclaimer that said: The reader should be advised that many of the sites described in Weird Ohio are located on private property and should not be visited, or you may face prosecution for trespassing.” And in any event, courts are reluctant to hold authors liable for what people do upon reading their works. The First Amendment provides protection for the expression of ideas and information. Imagine how that expression would be chilled if authors were held responsible for what people do upon reading the book. That is especially the case where the author expressly tells the reader not to do it.

If the plaintiff really wants to get even, maybe she should try to track downs the ghost of Old Man Staley. That would scare me way more than a lawsuit.