The Risk and Liability Associated with Consumer Use of Fireworks
As a 26 year fire service veteran, 17 of which I served as a Fire Investigator and Fire Marshal, every 4th of July and the few days preceding, I have witnessed just about everything imaginable associated with consumer fireworks usage and firework related injuries.
From imported “illegal” fireworks to the simple lack of parental supervision I have investigated firework related cases involving serious injuries to the hands, face and eyes and large loss fires. I have cited both adults and children and year after year the problem only seems to be getting worse.
As a fire expert, I am now realizing there is more to the fireworks issue than “getting caught” with illegal fireworks the medical bills associated with firework related injuries resulting from the mishandling or lack of parental supervision.
What I’m now seeing is the incredible amount of liability presented to the consumer as it relates to fireworks use.
Here are some statistics for you to ponder…
According to a recent National Fire Protection Report, in 2006, 9,200 fireworks-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. The trend in fireworks-related injuries has been mostly up since 1996, with spikes in 2000-2001, primarily due to celebrations around the advent of a new millennium, and in 2005. The highest injury rates were for children aged 10 to 14.
In 2006 alone, approximately 90% emergency room fireworks injuries involved fireworks that Federal regulations permit consumers to use. The NFPA report also indicates that the risk of fire death relative to exposure shows fireworks to be the riskiest consumer product.
How big is the firework problem?
On Independence Day in a typical year, more U.S. fires are reported than on any
other day, and fireworks account for half of those fires, more than any other
cause of fires. In 2005, fireworks caused an estimated 1,800 total structure fires and 700 vehicle fires reported to fire departments.
These 2,500 fires resulted in an estimated 60 civilian injuries and $39 million in direct property damage. Amazingly, there were no reported civilian deaths.
What are the most common types of injuries reported?
In 2006, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,200 people for
fireworks related injuries. Approximately 50% of 2006 emergency room fireworks-related injuries were to the extremities with the other (approximate) 50% were to the head.
Over half of the 2006 fireworks injuries were burns, while 30% were contusions and lacerations with approximately one-third of those injured by fireworks being under the age of 15.
The NFPA report reflects that the risk of fireworks injury was two-and-a-half times as high for children ages 10-14 as for the general population. Sparklers, fountains, and novelties alone accounted for 28% of the emergency room fireworks injuries in 2006.
What are the risks associated with firework usage?
The risk of fire death relative to time used shows fireworks as the “riskiest
consumer product”. The chance of someone losing their life from fire when fireworks are being used is higher relative to exposure time than the risk of fire death when a cigarette is being smoked. The risks presented by fireworks are not limited to displays, public or private. The unfortunate opportunity of injury or death also exists with the manufacturing, transportation or storage of fireworks.
Some fireworks and sparklers classified as “Safe and sane” fireworks can be just as dangerous as those not classified as such when modified, mishandled or used by unsupervised children as they are designed to explode or throw off showers of hot sparks at temperatures exceeding 1200°F.
Statistics provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, reports similar statistics provided by NFPA reports that nearly 30 percent of firework related injuries are sustained to the eye. CPSC also reports that children are the most common victims of firework abuse, specifically those 15 years old or younger.
According to the CPSC, most serious eye injuries are caused by bottle rockets, but even fireworks that many people consider safe represent a threat to the eyes.
Firework injuries often lead to insurance claims and lawsuits. Typical claims arise when underage and/or unsupervised children are allowed to light fireworks, or to pick up what seemed to be an unexploded “dud.”
In such “failure to supervise” situations, the “supervising adult” a/or homeowners could be held liable for the injury. Other fireworks claims arise from manufacturing defects, such as when the fuse burns too fast and the firecracker detonates prematurely. In such cases the manufacturer, the distributor and the vendor of the fireworks each could be liable.
As “Unpatriotic” as this may sound, the best thing one can do to avoid the tragedy of fireworks accidents is not to use them, and stay far away from those who do.
To protect yourself from financial liability, make sure your homeowners or renters insurance has a high enough liability limit. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, initial costs for admissions to pediatric centers for burn injuries average over $20,000, while long term care costs for third and fourth degree burns, including hospitalization, skin grafts, and physical therapy, can easily run into six figures.
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