Fireworks Accidents on Fourth of July: Who is Liable for Injuries?
CALIFORNIA (July 4, 2015 — Independence Day) — Celebrating the Fourth of July with family and friends wouldn’t be the same without the barbecues, parades and fireworks shows, but sometimes the celebration turns to tragedy due to mishaps, malfunctions and negligence.
Every year there are roughly 9,000 to 11,000 injuries and several deaths in the United States due to contact with both legal and illegal fireworks by those who are handling them as well as spectators there to watch a show, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff’s analysis of 2012 data on nonoccupational, fireworks-related deaths and injuries.
At least six people were killed in 2012 for example after handling fireworks. These were mostly illegal or home-made devices that exploded while they were handling them or attempting to set them off.
Roughly 60 -percent of those injured were treated at US hospitals for their injuries described as mostly burns and primarily to the hands, and fingers (41%), head and face (19%) and eyes (12%). Most of the victims were male or 74 percent of the total and roughly 30 percent were children under 15 years old.
Most people injured in fireworks accidents are treated and released from hospital the same day, but roughly 15 percent of this injuries are more serious and require hospitalization. Some of the worst injuries can involve burns, cuts, perforated eyes or eardrums, blindness, temporary and permanent brain injuries, concussion and even death. Many people who are hurt in this type of accident may also suffer from panic attacks, nightmares, emotional distress and permanent disfigurement or disability.
Causes of Fireworks Accidents Involving Injuries
Most injuries caused by fireworks accidents are due to misuse or malfunctions. Consumers who are hurt are often holding the fireworks in their hands, they have them too close to their face when lighting them or are playing around with them after they are lit.
Fireworks displays operated by trained professionals may also malfunction or misfire and send shrapnel or fiery particles on an unexpected path sideways instead of upwards. This can also happen to consumers who are not trained. Sometimes a structure built to hold the fireworks can collapse and live fireworks can fire sideways into crowds.
Some cheap imported fireworks have been known to misfire or explode prematurely and some U.S. companies have stopped using them due to problems with them.
Sometimes spectators are seated or allowed to sit too close or fireworks. Poorly trained employees may also cause an accident by mishandling pyrotechnics.
Still most fireworks purchased in the United States were for consumer use. Roughly 225. 3 million pounds of fireworks were used in the United States in 2014, but only 23.7 million pounds are for public fireworks displays, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
Liability for Fireworks Accidents
Pyrotechnics are considered “inherently dangerous” under California law and companies that handle these products can be held “strictly liable” for injuries or death resulting from an accident.
Additionally, these fireworks are products whose manufacturers may also be held liable for any defects that caused harm to a person. The facility where the accident takes place may also be held liable for not maintaining a safe environment for spectators.
Indeed, spectators can and have been seriously injured due to accidents resulting from negligence at an event where fireworks are displayed. One of the typical ways people are hurt is when they are either too close to the fireworks or the display misfires as was the case two years ago in California.
On July 4, 2013, a shell-malfunction set off the entire fireworks display at once causing the platform to tip over and sending a firestorm directly into the crowd of more than 8,000 people at the Rancho Santa Susana Community Center and Park in Simi Valley, California. There were 28 people who suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to serious burns and eye injuries. New York-based Bay Fireworks faced multiple lawsuits from injured spectators after the incident.
Three years earlier on July 4, 2010, there were 11 people injured when a fireworks show operated by Schaefer Pyrotechnics Inc. in Ronks, PA exploded out of control and burned people who were too close to the display held at the local middle school. One of the fireworks reportedly malfunctioned and set off others which fell over and together exploded into the crowds.
This was not the first time a Schaefer Pyrotechnics display misfired into a crowd. In 2007, the same company set up a pyrotechnics display that was only 450 feet away from spectators, but the instructions required them to be at least 820 feet away.
Indeed, the company was sued after a 2007 fireworks show went wrong and injured several people including a woman and her 3-year-old son. The jury awarded the woman $4.75 million to compensate her for injuries and severe burns suffered in the accident. One piece of shrapnel from the explosion struck her head causing a lasting brain injury that left her with “dead zones” in her head. Her son was in a coma for three days and his injuries were also severe, but were handled in a separate lawsuit.
If something like this happens, the pyrotechnics company and the operator of the facilities where the event is taking place may both be held liable for a person’s injuries and losses including wages, pain and suffering and property damage.
Legal and Illegal Fireworks in Southern California
Under California law, there are some fireworks that are illegal and subject to fines of $50,000 fines and prison up to one year. Illegal fireworks include any type that explodes or goes up into the air or moves around uncontrollably. Specifically, sky rockets, bottle rockets, roman candles and aerial shells.
Riverside County permits Blythe; Cathedral City; Coachella; Desert Hot Springs; Indio
Los Angeles County allows fireworks only in these cities: Alhambra; Artesia; Azusa; Baldwin Park; Bell; Bell Gardens; Bellflower; Carson; Commerce; Compton; Cudahy; Downey; Duarte; El Monte; Gardena; Hawaiian Gardens; Hawthorne; Huntington Park; Industry; Inglewood; Irwindale; La Mirada; La Puente; Lakewood; Lawndale; Lynwood; Maywood; Montebello; Monterey Park; Norwalk; Palmdale; Paramount; Pico Rivera; Rosemead; Santa Fe Springs; South El Monte; South Gate; Temple City; Vernon
Orange County cities that permit safe and sane fireworks are: Anaheim; Buena Park; Costa Mesa; Fullerton; Garden Grove; Huntington Beach; Santa Ana; Stanton; Villa Park; and Westminster.
San Bernardino County permits fireworks in Adelanto; Barstow: Chino; Colton; Fontana; Grand Terrace; Rialto; and San Bernardino.
San Diego County prohibits the use of fireworks.
Ventura County permits fireworks in Fillmore only.