A popular yet controversial Philadelphia-area Halloween attraction that takes place on
the grounds of an infamous hospital for the mentally ill is at the center of a personal injury claim filed this week by a New Jersey man.
Steven Chrzanowski, who lives in Gloucester City, N.J., filed a federal complaint at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on May 21 against the operators of a haunted house that is open each fall at the site of the former Pennhurst mental institution.
Chrzanowski claims in his civil action against Pennhurst Asylum, Pennhurst Haunt LLC and Bates Motel Productions LLC that while attending the haunted house attraction on Oct. 9, 2011, he sustained serious leg injuries after two employees working for the defendants “jumped onto or otherwise abruptly caused a hospital bed to strike the plaintiff in his left knee.”
The negligent act caused Chrzanowski to suffer a posterior horn medial meniscus tear, patellofemoral chondrosis, and infrapateller neuroma, which caused the plaintiff to have to undergo surgery, the lawsuit claims.
The complaint accuses the defendants’ employees of acting in a negligent, careless and reckless manner.
As a result of the incident, the suit states, Chrzanowski experienced pain and suffering, discomfort, incapacitation, and he incurred expenses related to his medical treatment.
The complaint says the alleged incident occurred while the plaintiff was standing in line for one of the indoor attractions of the haunted house at about 9:30 at night.
Pennhurst Asylum and Pennhurst Haunt LLC are Pennsylvania corporations based in Chester County, while Bates Motel Productions LLC is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Gradyville, Delaware County.
The Pennhurst haunted attraction, which first opened in 2010, has had its share of controversy, namely due to people opposing the use of the historic site as a Halloween gimmick.
The reason – the facility was shut down amid claims of patient abuse and mistreatment.
According to online records, the facility first opened in the early 1900s and was originally called Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic.
The building, which straddles the Chester County and Montgomery County lines, was designed to house mentally ill and physically disabled patients from southeastern Pennsylvania.
The institution, however, ended up being shuttered in the mid 1980s following news reports of unsanitary conditions and inappropriate treatment on the part of staff against patients, something that led to one of the first class action abuse lawsuits of its kind in U.S. history.
That case, according to news reports, was Halderman v. Pennhurst State School & Hospital, which concluded that developmentally disabled patients under state care have a constitutional right to appropriate treatment and education.
The federal case was filed by former Pennhurst patient Terry Lee Halderman, who claimed that the conditions at Pennhurst were not just unsanitary, but both inhumane and hazardous, violations of patients’ Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Halderman had argued that cruel and unusual punishment was the norm at Pennhurst.
Records show, however, that the United States Supreme Court ended up vacating the trial court’s ruling due to the Eleventh Amendment, which prevents federal courts from forcing state officials to enforce state laws.
Nevertheless, Pennsylvania officials did finally agree to close down Pennhurst in the summer of 1986, and move its residents to other institutions, according to an archived New York Times article.
From start to finish, the litigation lasted about a decade, records show.
In addition to being the location for the haunted house attraction, Pennhurst is also a popular site among paranormal investigators.
Chrzanowski, the plaintiff in the current lawsuit, seeks compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus interest, attorney’s fees, litigation costs and other court relief.
He is being represented by attorney Frank D. Allen of the firm Archer & Greiner.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-02804-SD.