July Fourth Fireworks: Have Fun, But Don’t Become One

OK – Here it is, July 2 2017 and people everywhere are celebrating the Fourth of July (in what will very likely turn out to be a very short work week this coming week – added bonus, no?) Yes, that means parades, cookouts and each outings.  I love this time of year; I’m a summer person.

But Fourth of July celebrations also mean something else:  Fireworks celebrations.  And while the vast majority of these fireworks displays are run by cities and towns under professional management, an enormous amount of the fireworks that you hear in any given neighborhood, are being lit off by individuals – usually young people.  As I write this post, I can hear the occasional firecracker now (or entire pack of them!)  Most people – especially young people – don’t appreciate the real danger of lighting off fireworks such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, ground spinners, ladyfingers, M-80’s, sparklers, and more.

So the point of this post is to offer two messages – and both of them are about caution – one is obvious; the other not so obvious to many people.

The obvious:  Most fireworks products are explosives – not something to take lightly.  Most are made of gunpowder or highly incendiary chemicals.  They are manufactured to ignite very fast and burn very hot – as hot as blowtorches.  Too many people watching organized fireworks displays fail to remember:  The companies hired by the sponsors of these fireworks are professionals:  They are in the pyrotechnics business and they know how to light these things off in a manner that minimizes risk of injury.   Some of these pyrotechnics professionals are even ex-military and bomb experts. And even under the most experienced of fireworks management, sometimes major mishaps and serious burn injuries can result.  This happened 20 years ago in an over-water fireworks accident in the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts.  A major explosion occurred during the event, seriously injuring more than one individual.

The average person doesn’t think about this when they light off a pack of firecrackers, bottle rockets, or otherwise in their backyard.  I’d bet most people think these types of injuries are relatively uncommon. Wrong:  Approximately 7,600 of the nearly 11,000 fireworks-related injuries that were reported in 2016 were treated by hospital ER’s between June 18 and July 18 of that year.  That’s according to a report by the Consumer Products Safety Commission and its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.  That’s a lot of serious injuries, folks – almost 100% of them suffered by the “average person” – not pyrotechnics professionals.  Not surprisingly, 61 percent of these injuries were suffered males, and 39 percent were females.

So, Message Number One:  Use some common sense.  Ditch the matches and the home-based fireworks.  Is the potential loss of your eyesight, facial burns or lost fingers worth it?

Message Number Two – not so obvious:  A lot of people don’t seem to realize that if fireworks injuries occur on their property, the owner of that property can be held liable for those injuries – even if he or she had nothing to do with either bringing them on to the property or lighting them off.   This potential liability can apply to any property owner, but it usually involves the parents or adult supervisors of homes where the fireworks were used.  Classic example:  Mom and Dad negligently supervise their high school or college-age kids during a July Fourth celebration.  Young Johnny or Janey starts lighting off fireworks with friends, and one of those in attendance gets badly hurt.  As a Massachusetts burn injury lawyer, I’ve seen more than one of these cases, and they aren’t pretty.   Most all of these injuries involve permanent burn injuries to the face and hands, and they can be very serious.

Mom and Dad may not know this, but under such a scenario they will probably be sued for negligence in allowing the fireworks on the premises.  So – as I always stress to my clients and friends:  You’d better have adequate liability coverages on your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy.  This is necessary for the same reason that kids can sometimes bring alcohol into a home resulting in alcohol-related injuries – resulting in Massachusetts social host liability.  And for the same reason when swimming pool injures occur.  Note:  Liability coverage is completely separate from property damage (such as if a pipe breaks in your home.)

Don’t be stupid.  Use your head.  And cover your you-know-what, by having adequate homeowners’ liability coverage.