Don’t Get Burned This Fourth of July

Watch Out for Liabilities With Fireworks Ordinances, Fireworks Displays

​The Fourth of July is the most popular holiday of the year for fireworks, and it's also a time of questions about fireworks ordinances and risk management checks on city fireworks displays.

Local fireworks ordinances
Cities and towns can take steps to regulate the use of fireworks within their boundaries, according to state law, but they cannot prohibit or criminalize the use of fireworks. Making sure that municipal ordinances do not conflict with state law is an important part of managing legal risks on fireworks.

Local governing bodies do have the power to create a Fireworks Prohibited Zone, according to SC Code Section 23-35-175. They can also regulate the time when fireworks may be discharged.

A 2011 South Carolina Attorney General opinion noted that local officials should be careful to make violations of local fireworks ordinances punishable only with civil penalties, much like the penalties found in smoking prohibitions.

Managing city-sponsored displays
When cities and towns make firework displays a part of their Independence Day celebrations, they should make sure their fireworks display company has appropriate insurance. Virtually all insurance coverage for cities and towns specifically excludes coverage for fireworks displays, and municipalities generally cannot acquire separate coverage for fireworks displays since they are not in control of the fireworks display company.

Fireworks display companies should have coverage including

  • workers' compensation;
  • auto liability; and
  • general liability coverage, with the coverage limits equal to or greater than the coverage limits carried by the municipality.

The municipality should also be named as an additional insured entity on the display company's auto liability and general liability certificates of insurance, as provided directly from the insurance provider. The possibility exists that coverage could be cancelled between the time the insurance provider issues the certificate and the event, so it's a good idea to call the insurance provider or the insurance agent on the last business day before the event to confirm that the coverage is still active.

Just as Thanksgiving Day raises the threat of cooking fires, the Fourth of July brings fireworks hazards every year. The National Fire Protection Association notes that more than one quarter of all fireworks fires take place on Independence Day, while nearly half of all fires reported on Independence Day were the result of fireworks.

The NFPA also reports these damages and injuries from fireworks in an average year:

  • 18,500 fires, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires;
  • three deaths;
  • 40 civilian injuries; and
  • $43 million in direct property damage.