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Fireworks: Personal Safety Tips and California Law

What comes to your mind when you think of Independence Day? If you’re like most people, your thoughts probably turn to bar-b-q, spending time with the family and fireworks…lots of beautiful, bright fireworks. For as long as most Americans can remember, we have celebrated the Fourth of July by staging fireworks shows in public or setting off our own smaller displays at home. The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were actually lit on July 4, 1777. Even before the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams envisioned fireworks as a perfect way to celebrate our independence. In a letter he wrote to his wife on July 3, 1776, Adams said that the nation should celebrate “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Fireworks and Personal Safety

While the Fourth of July is meant to be a day of family fun, you should also be aware that fireworks pose certain dangers. This is true for both amateur and professional fireworks displays. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted a survey last year that found 65 percent of all fireworks injuries occurred within the month of July. Between June 22, 2012 and July 22, 2012, over 5,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to fireworks-related injuries. In addition, they found out that four people were killed by fireworks-related accidents, one person was decapitated, multiple people reported the loss of fingers and over 9,600 suffered some form of personal injury due to fireworks.

Some of the more interesting facts from the study are:

  • The most common firework-related injury was burns to the hands, head, face and/or fingers.
  • Adults who were ages 20 through 44 were most commonly injured.
  • Males suffered firework-related injuries more than females.
  • Females were mainly injured at public fireworks displays.
  • The most dangerous fireworks that caused injury were firecrackers, bottle rockets, sparklers, Roman candles and re-loadable shells.

When the Consumer Product Safety Commission did a follow-up on the injuries, they found that most were caused by malfunctioning fireworks or improper use. In this case, malfunctioning fireworks meant unexpected take-off and flight paths or hot, dangerous debris coming from the firework itself. Improper use included lighting the firework too close to a bystander, lighting the firework while holding it in your own hand or playing with lit fireworks. While most victims of a firework-related injury ended up recovering from the injury with no complications, there were some who said their injuries are long-term. For example, some with severe burns and blindness will suffer complications for the rest of their lives.

California Law for Fireworks

In an effort to keep personal safety in mind this Fourth of July, the state of California, like many others, limits the sale and use of fireworks. In fact, California limits the sale and use of fireworks to 295 of its communities. In addition, state laws surrounding fireworks are detailed and complex. In general, California law mainly deals with “dangerous” fireworks, which are considered illegal unless you hold a special display license, and “safe and sane” fireworks, which may be sold, purchased, and used by the public, as long as they are used under very strict guidelines.

So, if you and your loved ones are planning to purchase and set off your own fireworks display, what can you do to remain safe? Keep the following personal safety tips in mind:

  • First, check your local ordinances to make sure it is okay to purchase and use fireworks.
  • Make sure children never light fireworks without an adult present and supervising.
  • Always read and follow the instructions on fireworks.
  • Never light fireworks in or near dry grass or forest area.
  • Make sure everyone remains at a safe distance from the fireworks.
  • Never, ever throw fireworks at another person.
  • If a firework is malfunctioning, never attempt to re-light it.

Fireworks and Their Legal Implications

In addition to personal safety, something else to think about when setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July would be the legal implications of an injury. Anyone who is injured through someone else’s negligence can be held liable for that injury. This includes fireworks-related injuries and applies to:

  • Businesses and municipalities that present public fireworks displays
  • Property owners whose guests are injured as a result of fireworks
  • Illegal purchasing and use of fireworks can lead to criminal prosecution in addition to personal injury claims

More Information

If you’d like more information about firework-related accidents or if you have suffered an injury resulting of someone else’s negligence, contact San Francisco personal injury lawyer Nelson C. Barry today. Your first consultation and case evaluation are always free.

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