Fourth of July fireworks on the beach led to catastrophe

Like most Americans, Connecticut residents love to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends, enjoying summer activities such as picnics and cookouts. Another tradition on the Fourth of July is watching fireworks shooting into the sky at the end of the day, displays usually staged pursuant to a permit in a large area for safety. Connecticut law forbids the sale, use or possession of fireworks, except under permit, but that does not stop residents from staging annual illegal fireworks displays.

Illegal fireworks displays permitted by owner on private beach

The recent Connecticut case of Colangelo v. Bay View Improvement Assn. illustrates the tragic consequences of fireworks when they are not detonated in a safe and legal manner. Unfortunately, shooting off fireworks which are not properly located or set up by persons untrained in the handling of explosives can result in injury or death, and that is just what happened in this case.

The members of a private beach community held their traditional Independence Day celebration, including a fireworks display on the beach. Fireworks were being shot off from multiple locations, and were just set in the sand without proper structures holding them, despite the presence of people on the beach. One of those fireworks was ignited and instead of shooting upward, shot straight into the crowd and detonated on a member of the audience, causing serious burn injuries.

Are illegal fireworks an "ultrahazardous activity" under Connecticut law?

The injured audience members sued the community association for negligence and recklessness, claiming that it put the audience members' safety at risk by allowing and promoting the illegal fireworks displays on its property without providing security or supervision.

The suit also alleged that the association was strictly liable for their injuries, without regard to fault, because their promotion and allowance of an illegal fireworks display is an "ultrahazardous activity." The court, in discussing the issue, cited another Connecticut case from the judicial district of New Haven which addressed illegal fireworks as an "abnormally dangerous activity." The court in the earlier decision, while acknowledging that fireworks displays on the Fourth of July date back to the founding of our country, stated that people will be injured, some seriously, by illegal fireworks displays.

That court's application of six factors to determine whether an activity is abnormally dangerous was also used in this case, and led both courts to decide that illegal fireworks displays were an "abnormally dangerous activity" under Connecticut law. Those factors are:

  • The existence of a high degree of risk of some harm to the person or property of another.
  • The likelihood that the harm that results from it will be great.
  • The inability to eliminate the risk by the exercise of reasonable care.
  • The extent to which the activity is not a matter of common usage.
  • The inappropriateness of the activity to the place where it is carried on.
  • The extent to which its value to the community is outweighed by its dangerous attributes.

The Colangelo court found these factors persuasive, and ruled that the victims' allegations of an illegal fireworks display were legally sufficient to impose strict liability on the community association if proven.

Duties and precautions regarding fireworks displays

While everyone loves the summer season and its many recreational activities, there are dangers and risks involved. An experienced personal injury attorney can help pursue your legal remedies and possible entitlement to compensation if you or your family members are injured by such celebratory, but abnormally dangerous, activities such as fireworks displays.