The Fourth of July holiday is rapidly approaching and many Americans will be celebrating. They may choose to have a barbeque, a pool party or go to a parade. Many people will either attend a public fireworks display, or buy and shoot off their own fireworks.
With fireworks, there is the risk of injury. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that in 2019 (the most recent data available) approximately 10,000 people were injured by fireworks;12 people died from their injuries. Of those 10,000 injuries, 7,300 occurred in the month surrounding the July 4th holiday, making it the most dangerous time of year for fireworks injuries. That equates to approximately 230 people a day in the weeks around the Fourth of July. Men and children under 15 were those most likely to be injured.
Most Common Fireworks Injuries
CPSC reports that the most common fireworks injury was burns to the hands, fingers, arms and legs. This should not be surprising considering estimates that a lit sparkler can reach temperatures of 1200 degrees or more. At that temperature, third degree burns can happen quickly. Cuts and bruises are the next most common injury.
North Carolina Law
In North Carolina it is legal for individuals to purchase and shoot off certain types of fireworks. North Carolina law requires that anyone purchasing fireworks be 16 years of age or older.
Legal fireworks in North Carolina are generally those that stay on the ground, are handheld, or do not explode. Examples of legal fireworks include:
- wire sparklers
- smoke devices
- glow worms
Illegal fireworks are those that are airborne or explode. Illegal fireworks include:
- bottle rockets
- Roman candles
- ground spinners
- cherry bombs
- aerial fireworks
Operators of public fireworks displays are permitted to purchase and shoot off fireworks that are considered illegal for individuals. However, they are subject to careful regulations. Operators are required to obtain a pyrotechnic permit from the jurisdiction where the event is taking place and a license from the Commissioner of Insurance. In addition, fireworks operators must be 21 years of age or older, participate in training established by the State Fire Marshal, and pass an exam approved by the State Fire Marshal. Employees who will be assisting the operator in things like set up, but will not actually be handling the fireworks, are also required to meet certain regulations including being 18 years of age or older and passing a test on basic pyrotechnic safety.
Penalties for Individuals Possessing Illegal Fireworks
Individuals who purchase, or use, illegal fireworks are subject to a fine of up to $500 and up to 6 months in a county jail. Purchasing or using illegal fireworks in North Carolina is a misdemeanor. Injuring someone, or someone’s property, while using illegal fireworks could lead to more serious charges.
In South Carolina, almost all fireworks are legal. That makes it tempting for North Carolinians to cross state lines and purchase fireworks. However, what most people don’t know is that in addition to it still being illegal to possess certain fireworks, it is also illegal to bring fireworks across state lines. Therefore, if you are caught with illegal fireworks and it is discovered that you bought them out of state, you could be subject to even greater penalties.
Liability in North Carolina
While no one expects to get hurt using, or viewing, fireworks, the numbers cited above make it clear that numerous people do get hurt every year. If you are injured by fireworks, or while attending a public display, depending on the facts surrounding the injury, you may be able to recover damages if you can show negligence on the part of a third party.
In the case of a public fireworks display, the company putting on the display may be liable. You would have to show negligence on the part of the company in order for them to be liable. Negligence could include: not setting up a barrier to keep people far enough away from where the fireworks are being shot from or from falling firework debris, or failing to obtain the proper license.
The town or city holding the display may also be liable. While many cities have laws that limit their liability, they do have a duty to keep people safe.
If there was a manufacturing defect in the fireworks, like a faulty fuse which caused them to explode too early or shoot off in a different direction than indicated, the manufacturer may have liability. In this case, you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit.
If you are working at a public display and are injured, then you might be able to recover for your injuries under workers’ compensation.
In the cases of a public display and a worker injured, the liability is more clear cut. But what if you are injured in your own backyard or while at a friend’s party? Is there still liability? Maybe, but it will depend on the answer to a number of questions including:
- Were the fireworks legal or illegal?
- Is there a city ordinance regulating firework use by individuals?
- Was there a manufacturing defect?
- Was the person shooting off the fireworks acting recklessly?
- Did the injured party act recklessly?
Assuming that you could prove that the host of the party was negligent, or reckless in some way, then you may be able to recover under the premises liability theory. Premises liability is a subset of personal injury and can be used when injury results from an unsafe or defective condition on the host’s property.
If you can prove liability, you may be able to recover damages including: medical costs (hospital and doctor visits, prescriptions, rehabilitation), lost wages (if you need to miss a significant time from work due to your injuries) and pain and suffering.
Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?
The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.