Independence Day in the United States rings in every Fourth of July with a bang. The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) estimates more than 102 million pounds or fireworks are sold annually with more than 14,000 fireworks displays illuminating the night skies on the 4th of July alone. On the dark side of the boom, federal data recorded approximately 11,400 fireworks related injuries in 2013.
Are Fireworks Legal in Your State?
Fireworks are more than just pretty party favors. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) fireworks are regulated by federal explosives laws and fall into two general categories as defined by 27 CFR 555.11: (a) display fireworks that require an ATF permit to import, receive or transport and (b) consumer fireworks that can be purchased by the public. Display fireworks contain more than 130 mg of flash powder for ground and aerial devices, with aerial shells carrying 40 grams or more of pyrotechnic composition (excluding the lift charge). Consumer fireworks can only contain 50 mg or less of flash powder for ground devices and less than 130 mg of flash powder for aerial devices.
State laws further restrict the use of consumer fireworks into three general categories:
- Ban all consumer fireworks – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
- Allow only sparklers or novelty fireworks – Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Vermont.
- Some or all types of consumer fireworks – 42 states + DC.
Penalties for illegal sales and distribution of fireworks vary by state, but can start at $5,000 fines for first offenses with $40,000 fines for subsequent violations and even imprisonment for up-to-two-years. Illegal consumer use or possession of fireworks are usually classed as a misdemeanor offense and punishable by fines ranging from $250 to $1,000. Municipal ordinances and county laws can further restrict consumer use of fireworks, so it’s best for citizens to research their local law before engaging in firework use.
Fireworks Lawsuits: Who Can You Sue and for How Much?
Kathryn Hollis took her 3-year old son, Max to a 2007 fireworks display in Vienna, Virginia. When a “cake box” of mortars overturned, it shot salute shells into the crowd, one of which exploded next to Hollis who suffered severe burns to her head, face, arms and torso, as well as, a lasting brain injury from shrapnel wounds. A jury awarded her $4.75 million for past and future medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering, in a 2010 lawsuit against Schaefer Pyrotechnics, the company in charge of the fireworks display. Hollis’s award is one of the largest on record for a fireworks lawsuit given the extreme nature of her injuries.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issues an annual report on fireworks related deaths and injuries. Children under 15-years old account for more than 30% of all fireworks related injuries with males experiencing 74% of them. The most common personal injuries from fireworks include:
- Burns to the head, face, hands, fingers and legs.
- Eye injuries including contusions, lacerations and foreign bodies in the eye.
- Fractures and sprains
There are approximately five to ten fireworks related deaths per year. Liability for fireworks related injuries usually fall on the company or organization managing the actual display, but there can be additional liability for the fireworks manufacturer for defective products and other issues depending on the facts.
For the most part, fireworks can be safely used and enjoyed where permitted by law. Following fireworks safety tips like keeping a safe distance from any fireworks displays and sitting in designated area, or for personal use, having an adult supervise all fireworks use, never relighting fireworks that have not ignited fully and never pointing or throwing fireworks at another person can prevent most injuries.