Bonfire Night injuries…

…highlights firework safety issues

Bonfire night and injuries and who is to blame
Fireworks night highlights firework safety issues

Every year, Guy Fawkes Night brings with it an increase in unfortunate and sometimes tragic injuries caused by fireworks. This year has seen four children hospitalised after playing with fireworks in a street in Lancashire, and this is unlikely to be the only accident that takes place.

For obvious reasons, the sale and use of fireworks are heavily regulated. The largest fireworks, category 4, cannot be sold to the public and can only be used by professionals. Home fireworks can be bought legally, but only from licensed shops and registered sellers, and there can be restrictions on when and how they are sold. Fireworks can only be bought legally by over-18s.

There are also regulations on where and when they can be set off. It is illegal to set off fireworks in the street or other public places, and it is generally illegal to set them off at night, except at certain times of the year (such as around Bonfire Night).

Breaches of regulations concerning the buying and selling of fireworks, storing them, and when and how they are used, are criminal matters and carry criminal penalties.

Generally, the safest way to watch fireworks is at an organised display. They are usually run by professionals and importantly you can expect the event to be insured if anything goes wrong.  Accidents do happen, of course, and if someone is injured at a display, it is no good having a legal right to claim compensation from the organiser to put things right if the organiser has no insurance and no money to pay the claim.

If an accident does happen, the law that allows someone to claim compensation is the law of negligence. This is a common-sense standard of conduct expected of everybody. In general, if you do something where it is reasonably foreseeable that someone else may suffer harm if you don’t do it carefully, you are liable for the consequences. This means that a spectator at a display can expect the organiser to do things reasonably carefully, and may have a claim if they don’t.

What amounts to ‘reasonable care’ is not generally set out in law. It is ultimately a matter of opinion for the judge who decides the case. However, a court is likely to refer to guidance issued on how to manage firework displays, and unsurprisingly there is plenty of common sense guidance about. The Health and Safety Executive give guidance on things to consider when organising a firework display.  Whilst the guidance is not in itself the law, it is very likely a court would expect a display organiser to follow it.

The organisers of events (not just fireworks displays) also need to consider how they might affect not just those in attendance, but those nearby. In 2011 there was a fatal crash on the M5 near Taunton, and it was thought that smoke from a firework display at a rugby club had contributed to it (it was later ruled that it did not), and that the smoke did not significantly reduce visibility, which was already reduced by fog). People nearby who might reasonably be affected if a display is badly run might have a claim in negligence, or potentially under the law of nuisance which deals with activities affecting the use of public or private land.

If you run your own display in your garden, the law of negligence still applies. Generally garden displays involve smaller fireworks than used in commercial displays and householders wouldn’t be expected to adhere to the standards of professionals. However, garden fireworks can still be dangerous and the rate of accidents is higher.

A court assessing whether someone setting off garden fireworks has been negligent is likely to consider whether they have complied with the Firework Code. Whilst a householder can’t be expected to act like an expert, they can be expected to act with common sense.

Anyone injured in a garden firework display due to the negligence of the person in charge might well bring a damage claim against them.  Whilst they won’t carry insurance for the display itself, they may well be covered for injuries suffered by visitors under their home insurance.

Finally, there is also a law applying to fireworks manufacturers which protects the public. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 makes the producer of a product responsible for any damage caused by a defect in that product. This would potentially cover many things that might go wrong with a firework, but it is important to remember that it must have been caused by a defect. Injuries caused by misuse of a firework cannot be blamed on the producer.

If you would like legal advice concerning a potential personal injury claim please contact our Personal Injury team on 01733 882800 or email info@hcsolicitors.co.uk .

Author

Richard Moon - Senior Solicitor, Personal Injury

Photograph

Sarah Morris - Chartered Legal Executive, Commercial Property

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.