Although it’s not exactly sparkler season (the biggest fireworks in November perhaps being the elections), the impact these explosives can have on lives lasts well beyond the Fourth of July. Bangor injury lawyers know this has been especially true since 2011, when Maine state lawmakers passed a law allowing legal sale and possession of consumer fireworks for adults over 21. Their use is restricted to certain holidays (July 4th and December 31st) and those weekends immediately before and after. This spurred a new wave of retail outlets, peddling mostly Chinese products that are not only powerful, but if defective or used improperly, incredibly dangerous. Lawmakers passed a measure in 2012 and another in 2017 allowing both cities and plantations in Maine to adopt their own consumer fireworks ordinances, which is exactly what they’ve been doing.
Recently a man in Laconia, New Hampshire (about 2 hours from Portland, Maine) filed a lawsuit alleging a 19-shot AA firework cake and one of its charges struck him in the eye, causing him to lose his vision in that eye. Initially, he told investigators the firework, which was consumer-grade, may have had a “quick fuse.” He’s now suing the manufacturer of that firework for product liability, saying the fuse was defective. Authorities on scene noted the firework had been anchored properly to the ground, spectators were a safe distance away and there was a hose on the ground nearby.
Last October, a man in Sabattus, Maine died as a result of a fireworks explosion after he lit a firework inside a cinder block at his son’s home. He was standing roughly 15 feet away, but the force of the explosion sent fragments of cinder block flying, causing several pieces to strike him and resulting in fatal injuries. There is no word yet on whether his surviving family intends to take legal action.
Maine’s Office of State Fire Marshal offers a list of communities that have adopted ordinances prohibiting the use of fireworks, some as recently as earlier this year. Bangor’s ordinance, Chapter 113 section 5, was passed in 2011 and prohibits the use, possession with intent to use in city limits, sale, possession with intent to sell or offering for sale of any consumer fireworks. The only exception is for those who have obtained a city or state fireworks display permit. That doesn’t mean people won’t still bend the rules.
Three years ago, a 22-year-old man in Calais died while celebrating the Fourth of July when he tried to launch fireworks from his head. He was drinking and kept insisting he was going to light a reloadable fireworks mortar tube on his head. His friends thought they had dissuaded him. Moments later, they heard an explosion. He had died instantly. Calais passed its own fireworks ordinance that October.
So, who exactly can be held accountable for Maine fireworks injuries? Bangor personal injury attorneys know it really depends.
Landowners who allow guests to use fireworks on their property could potentially be liable for resulting injuries. Homeowners insurance might cover fireworks but it really depends on the language of the policy. Some policies might not cover injuries that result from illegal acts (and setting off fireworks in your backyard in Bangor is illegal by ordinance, even if the state allows it). It might also exclude intentional injuries, like if two friends got into a bottle-rocket war. Umbrella insurance policies might provide additional liability coverage, and could cover areas not covered in other policies.
A product liability lawsuit may be warranted if there is evidence the firework was defective, as alleged in the Laconia case. In such cases, any companies in the chain of distribution may share liability – from the manufacturer in China to the U.S. wholesaler to the retail stores and online outlets that move them down the line to consumers. Practically speaking, it can be difficult to sue a Chinese manufacturer, but it’s not impossible. It’s usually easier to hold out-of-state distributors accountable. Cases can be tried in Maine courts so long as the distributor also operates in Maine. Otherwise, the claim will have to be filed in federal court. It’s typically not necessary to prove the distributor or retailer was aware of a product defect because strict liability laws, which require only that you show the product was defective and the defect caused your injury.
Contact Bangor personal injury lawyer Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Federal and State Fireworks Laws & Regulations, Maine Office of State Fire Marshal
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