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Home | The Law of Christmas Light Displays according to the Hon. Clark W. Griswold

According to a 2011 survey, Americans spend in excess of $6 billion per year on Christmas decorations – and there’s no truth to the rumor that more than half of that number was spent by Clark Griswold for his annual Christmas light extravaganza.
What is true is that displays get bigger and more expensive every year, and the desire to have the best and brightest Christmas display in the neighborhood (or maybe in the town, the state, or even the country!) could land you in a lawsuit if you’re not careful.  Let’s take a look at three of the biggest issues to watch out for as you enjoy your Christmas lights this year:
1) Is Your Display a Nuisance?
Many among us look forward to driving around with our kids looking for the most ostentatious displays we can find.  Even here in little Cedar City, Utah there are some very impressive presentations, including one neighborhood where all the houses are involved with thousands of lights, and hand-painted signs retelling ’Twas the Night before Christmas.  However, what happens when your lights are too much for your neighbors?  Remember, not everyone loved Clark Griswold’s “25,000 tiny twinkling lights,” along with the miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
Holiday decorations can create additional traffic and noise from those coming by to get a look (or noise from the displays themselves).  They can also result in parking issues, blocked driveways, and unwelcome late-night revelers.  The display itself can also be a nuisance to the folks next door or across the street who have to deal with flashing lights at all hours of the night.  Displays using older incandescent bulbs also use much more electricity and could cause power outages.
While I’m not aware of any particular case law, it’s absolutely conceivable that an aggrieved neighbor could sue and demand a restraining order for a particularly gaudy holiday display.  However, in the spirit of Christmas, I would certainly hope that before it gets that far, neighbors could get together to work out a compromise that is acceptable to everyone.  While being on a court docket during the holidays doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’re on Santa’s naughty list – it is pretty close!
2) Getting “Professional” Help to Hang Your Lights
If you’re like me, you love how your house looks when it’s decorated with a dazzling Christmas display, but you’re not a huge fan of the work it takes to get there (and you’re not in a huge hurry to place yourself on your roof to make it happen).  Those of us in that rather large boat are in luck – there are plenty of “professionals” out there who are ready, willing and able to do that work for us – for a reasonable fee of course.
Seems like a win-win, right?  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, a lot of the folks who perform this work are unlicensed.  So, what happens when the wind kicks up and one of the workers is blown off your roof and becomes seriously injured?  If the contractor you hired is licensed, then they will carry worker’s compensation insurance and you can rest easy.  On the other hand, if you hired an unlicensed contractor, then you may wake up on Christmas morning to a present you didn’t want to receive – a process server handing you a summons and a complaint for a lawsuit from the guy who fell off your roof.
3) Issues with Laser Lights
The past two or three years have seen a huge proliferation in the number of homeowners eschewing the traditional strands of Christmas lights, and going instead with one of several different “laser” holiday light products, which project lights onto the exterior of your house.  The main selling point of these systems is that they produce attractive displays with less work and less danger than hanging actual lights yourself.  While all of that is true, these systems are not without their issues.
Several news outlets have highlighted concerns with these lights, claiming that they can cause issues for pilots.  There are also reports of arrests coming after people “intentionally” pointed the lights at aircraft.  Because these systems are so new, this is still a developing area of the law.  However, it’s probable that cities and other municipalities will begin implementing regulations on these systems – including how close they can be used to airport facilities.
These systems have also been in the news for how easily then can be pilfered.  While it’s fairly difficult for a Grinch to steal lights that are affixed to your residence, he will have very little trouble making off with the compact device that sprays laser light all over your house.
Being aware of these issues and taking steps to mitigate them can help you enjoy the holidays without needing to get your attorney involved – after all, we all know the Child Born in Bethlehem wasn’t the biggest fan of lawyers!

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