Fireworks – “Not reliable and unpredictable”

by | Jun 15, 2009

Those are not the words of a lawyer but rather those of a Fire Chief in Fairfax County, Virginia who was commenting on a tragedy which had occurred on July 4, 2007 at a town-sponsored fireworks show in Fairfax County. The town of Vienna, Virginia sponsored a fireworks show in 2007 and invited the public to attend. Clients of the firm did attend and sat in an area designated as safe to do so by the Town of Vienna.

During the grand finale of the show, a mortar ripped through the crowd of spectators and struck the law firm’s client in the chest. It bounced off him and exploded near his son who was standing nearby. Both father and son were severely injured. The law firm filed suit to seek compensation for each of them.

The Town of Vienna has said it is immune from suit (cannot be sued for damages) and that the family should look to the fireworks company that shot the fireworks for compensation. The fireworks company denies responsibility for the harm caused by the fireworks.

What the clients are left with is having to establish who should be held accountable. In other words, who did something wrong. The fact that the clients were injured is not in dispute.

I believe that when a person or entity uses a dangerous instrumentality (a bomb such as a firework mortar) and that dangerous instrumentality causes harm, then that person or entity should be held responsible for the harm caused. There should be no need for the injured, innocent victim to have to prove something went wrong. Fireworks are supposed to go into the air and not into the crowd of spectators. The Fire Chief knew fireworks were “not reliable and unpredictable”.

The spectators had no reasonable expectation that a bomb (the fireworks) would rip through and explode in the crowd.

Under such circumstances, it is best that we get beyond the “finger pointing” and permit those injured to obtain complete justice and compensation for their injuries without having to prove fault to the user of the dangerous instrumentality.

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