California Law—Negligence and Fireworks Explosion Incidents

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The Fourth of July means cookouts, high foods coming off of the grill, picnics, and watching fireworks with the family. While usually, this is a fun and exciting time, this year the fireworks display in Simi Valley, California was startling. The events that took place approximately five minutes into the twenty-five-minute show.

It occurred when multiple fireworks canisters exploded close to the ground. This explosion resulted in debris shooting out at nearby spectators causing the crowd to scatter and spectators to be burned and injured.


Simi Valley Shout Out

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this year’s Simi Valley fireworks mishap. Last Independence Day there was a similar incident, with a pyrotechnics display in the San Diego, California area. These two Fourth of July mishaps are enough to warrant exploring the legal issues involved in these types of situations.

In incidences where fireworks malfunctions have legal issues, and these typically will constitute negligence, which can vary between the parties involved in the display of fireworks that include the pyrotechnic professional(s), the manufacturer and the party or entity that is responsible for setting up the fireworks display event.

In incidences where fireworks malfunctions have legal issues, and these typically will constitute negligence, which can vary between the parties involved in the display of fireworks that include the pyrotechnic professional(s), the manufacturer and the party or entity that is responsible for setting up the fireworks display event.


Ordinary Care and “Extreme Caution” Distinguished

To prove negligence, there must be an injury or damage caused by a lack of “ordinary care.” In California and other jurisdictions, dangerous activities require an even higher standard.  “Extreme caution” remains the standard as of 2020. So when hazardous activities involve fireworks, many parties could be liable. For example, people besides the pyrotechnic professional’s company may be accountable.

In some ways, this duty remains similar to the duties owed by a shooting gallery. It stands to reason that shooting galleries remain held to a higher standard of care. In the case of Warner v. Santa Catalina Island Company, 44 Cal.2d 310, 317; a patron was injured when bullets malfunctioned. The court determined the business should be held to this higher standard.

This was because of the use of inherently dangerous ammunition and explosive materials. The industry had a higher standard of care to inspect and test ammunition used in close range shooting. They had to ensure the ammo was safe before distributing bullets to patrons. Makes sense, right?


EXTREME CARE – The Duty of Care Must Consider the Potential Danger

The California Supreme Court ruled that the burden of care must be proportionate to the risk. The duty of care includes anticipating potential future consequences. This reasonableness is then open to reason that the person or entity setting up and ignition of fireworks would be held to this higher standard of “extreme care.” One case that mainly addresses this issue is Ramsey v. Marutamaya Ogatsu Fireworks Company, 72 Cal.App.3d 516.

This case involves fireworks display, where the pyrotechnics resulted in a premature explosion causing injuries to spectators, including burns. Claims were brought against the pyrotechnics professionals, the manufacturer, and the sponsors of the event. This case also included the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and a Japanese trade organization. This was a non-jury trial. The defendants were found liable.

The Appeal.

The sponsors of the fireworks display appealed, arguing that their standard of duty was to hire pyrotechnic professionals and were not liable for the negligent actions of these experts. Appellant claimed no responsibility for faulty manufacturing or setting off of the fireworks.

The California Supreme Court upheld the verdict. In other words, the Court denied the appeal against the sponsors and pyrotechnic professionals. In making the ruling, the court depended upon the Restatement Second of Torts Section 423.

Most of all, employers of parties who engage in dangerous activities are liable in the same manner they would be with any other contractor the company hires. (See also page 525 of Ramsey.)

One of the other elements of this case, while the plaintiff brought a lawsuit for negligence, it also included strict liability. The reason for the use of this theory was to hold the manufacturer and chain of distribution entities liable for defective products or materials. And in this case, they were explosive fireworks.


Plaintiff’s Duty of Care Matters

The other side of this is the plaintiff bringing an action does have a legal responsibility to a certain degree, which is to act responsibly when attending a fireworks display. “Comparative negligence and apportionment of fault” is the formula to determine fault. Most of all, plaintiffs can lose even if they have injuries.

Instructive here is the case of Matthews v. City of Albany 36, Cal.App.2d 147. Basically, in that case, the plaintiff suffered harm from an unexploded firework at an outdoor event. And the plaintiff decided to explode it by himself. The court ruled against the plaintiff. Of particular interest here, this ruling found the show sponsor or pyrotechnics professional was not liable.


Heightened Standard of Care?

Due to the higher duty of attention, the incident of malfunctioning fireworks in Simi Valley this Independence Day and other incidences of this nature, the civil liability applies. The recent episode, like all legal issues, will depend on facts. Often these remain hidden facts until completion of the investigation. This evidence will provide answers about if there was a malfunction.

For example, what if the fireworks had a faulty ignition or were defective in any manner? The law is that if there was negligence in the duty of care or caution used in setting the display, there is a legal liability.

  • Example of Plaintiff’s Burden versus Burden of Defendant

Another answer that will be necessary is whether the spectators were in too close of proximity to where the pyrotechnic professionals were setting these materials off. For example, were the spectators behind a marked off area? This would speak volumes as to whether or not the victims were too close to the explosion.

Also, what was the hiring process by the sponsor for this event? What screening standards were used to hire the pyrotechnic company? Now the harmed spectators could bring civil personal injury claims against the liable entities with evidence of even gross neglect or recklessness. But usually, only a great lawyer can discover this information.

Most of all, this will depend on a thorough and timely investigation. This study will determine what happened and how. And it should also provide the information necessary to prevent this type of incident at another fireworks display.

Taking Legal Action after Football Game Burn Injuries

Burned top of a human foot
Burned top of woman’s foot.

Injuries caused by burns can happen anywhere at any time. From home fires to events at work to those in a car accident, there are many cases where people have suffered severe burns.

However, fans have also been injured at popular sporting events, with football games taking particular attention recently. Any burn that requires medical care is severe, and the victim should not bear the pain and doctor’s bills alone.

So How Do You Get Burned at a Football Game?

These burn injuries could happen in and around a football field for many reasons. There are incidents when machinery such as lawn mowers or venting reaches a critical temperature that burns the skin of anyone that comes close to it. There are cases where food preparation stands have unsafe practices that lead to onlookers being injured.

Furthermore, there are issues where propane tanks that are used to heat food are improperly maintained or installed. Also, this could lead to a leak that could catch fire or even an explosion. In one case, three people were seriously injured at a high school football game due to a propane tank explosion.

Coping With the Long-Term Effects of Burns Requires Money.

All of these potential injuries have profound effects on the victims. Having to live with the consequences of burn injuries that could cause scarring and disfigurement are jarring. There are also mounting medical bills and potential loss of work to consider. All of these could add up to a perfect storm for a fan that wanted to enjoy a game.

When all of these factors collide, you need proper medical attention. Having an attorney specialized in the field of burn injuries and premises liability, such as one from Ehline Law Firm is of vital importance.

If you are dealing with the wild party or parties causing an accident, an experienced personal injury attorney makes the difference. Call for more information or to sit down with one of our lawyers. Also, we can help 24 hours a day anywhere in Northern, Middle, or Southern California, or go here to learn more.


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